It was a day of joy and relief for Outer Banks entrepreneurs Wednesday when officials announced visitors could return May 16.
That is the Saturday before the Memorial Day weekend, which typically draws some of the biggest tourist crowds of the year and officially kicks off the summer season.
Pressure was building economically and socially to let everybody back to the Outer Banks following nearly two months of coronavirus-related closures. Beaches were nearly bare. Parking lots of typically teeming restaurants and souvenir stores were empty. Long piers usually cluttered with fishing rods and coolers were abandoned.
“We’re ready for folks to get back down here,” said Stephanie Bayne, an owner of Frank & Fran’s Fishermen’s Friend in Avon. “It was going to get dire if it had gone on much longer.”
Currituck, Dare and Hyde counties will all let visitors access beaches starting at midnight, a news release said. All Dare County towns also will open at that time.
Opening May 16 will give local businesses, attractions, rental companies and motels time to prepare, a Dare County release said. While lifting a stay-at-home order, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s also imposed several new operating requirements.
“We welcome their return to the Outer Banks,” said Bob Woodard, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners. “Our residents and businesses are looking forward to this day.”
The Outer Banks has been closed to visitors since mid-March. Dare County opened to non-resident property owners beginning Monday. Currituck County opened to nonresidents April 23.
Vacationers will still be required to follow several rules to promote social distancing. People must stay at least six feet apart and no more than 10 people may gather in one place at a time. Businesses must limit the number people allowed inside their stores. Restaurants will remain open for take out only.
Visitors should bring essential supplies with them, the release said.
There have only been a few virus cases in the Outer Banks. Hospitals in the region have not filled beyond capacity.
“We feel good that we’re getting things started and at the same time, oh my goodness, we hope everybody stays safe," said Natalie Kavanaugh, part of the family that owns Frisco Rod and Gun.
The store is stocked with groceries and tackle, she said, and stickers have been placed on the floor six feet apart. They will order fresh bait as opening day approaches. The fishing has been good with lots of red drum caught by locals, she said.
Not everyone is happy about opening. Many people took to social media Wednesday or otherwise expressed their opposition. They feared officials were opening the borders too soon.
“Although the County depends on tourism, I call opening it a disaster for us permanent residents — many over 65, others who may be health-compromised,” said Kill Devil Hills resident Jeanne Thomson in an email. She feared visitors would bring the coronavirus with them from more heavily-populated areas outside Dare County.
"Not purposely, just by virtue of their numbers,” she said.
Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, email@example.com