In wake of complaints, Hilton Head to consider beach tent rules

Abandoned, broken beach canopies and canopy frames plague some beaches on Hilton Head Island.
Abandoned, broken beach canopies and canopy frames plague some beaches on Hilton Head Island.

Large tents are popping up all over Hilton Head Island’s crowded beaches this summer, but many tourists seem to be having a problem taking them down.

While the big canopies provide merciful shade for beachgoers during the day, they are turning into an unwanted headache for Shore Beach Services staff when many of those visitors ditch their battered or broken tents in the sand each evening, said Mike Wagner, operations manager for the lifeguard and rental service.

“They’re mangled skeletons, so we have to use bolt cutters and take 15 to 30 minutes to cut each of them up,” Wagner said. “On a bad week, we’re cutting up well over 50. It gets to be a bit much.”

The trashed tents have become so prolific that Town Council members have received a slew of complaints from island residents, and the grievances have council leaders considering new rules for beach tents for 2016.

“We have some of the best beaches in the country here, so let’s go to the effort of coming up with a policy that makes sense for everyone,” councilman Bill Harkins said. “We want people to come to the beach and we want them to enjoy it, but we want it to be done in an atmosphere of mutual respect and common sense safety.”

Beach tents are not currently regulated by the town. But they are also not a new phenomenon, Wagner said.

Over the past five years, large tents and canopies have become an increasingly popular beach accessory for families and groups looking to create their own patch of shade for a full day in the sand, he said.

Today they’ve become so common that hundreds of tents could dot the island’s 13.5 miles of shoreline on any given summer day, he said.

But that’s drawn the ire of some residents who find the tents to be an eyesore and who complain that they take up too much room on already crowded beaches, said Harkins and councilman John McCann, who have both fielded several complaints from residents.

The tents also require visitors to dig holes in the sand to secure their footing, which often go unfilled when the tents are removed, Harkins and McCann said. That leads to holes that become treacherous for people taking evening beach strolls and problematic for sea turtle hatchlings trying to get back to the water, they added.

If the town creates a new policy, Shore Beach Services could better manage some of those issues and avoid the problems it has had this summer, Harkins and McCann suggested.

Such a policy could mirror recent rules created for the Myrtle Beach area.

Horry County, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach each have regulations that ban tents and limit the size of umbrellas allowed in their jurisdictions. The rules went into effect in early 2014, and the governments tweaked those limits early this year to permit exclusions for elderly beachgoers, families and special events.

In October, McCann plans to hold a public hearing for concerned residents, council members and Shore Beach Services to decide whether Hilton Head should adopt similar measures.

“We want people to enjoy the beach and at the same time protect themselves from the sun’s rays, but that can be done with a tent that’s sized for the average family and not for the average family reunion,” Harkins said.

The town could include beach parking issues in that review, too, Harkins said.

Residents’ access to beach parking has been a common thread throughout the complaints council members have received, and the town currently has varying fees for parking at different beach parks, he added.

For now, though, Shore Beach Services is encouraging visitors to clean up their own tents during what has been the busiest summer in several years, Wagner said.

“We’re sort of a victim of our own success,” Harkins said. “The visits to the beach by residents and guests are up and we do not have a policy in to manage all of this sensibly. It’s kind of a nice problem to have.”

Follow reporter Zach Murdock on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach and on Facebook at facebook.com/IPBGZach.