It's been a long time in coming, but it now appears certain that this summer will be the last hurrah for the Cape Hatteras Fishing Pier in Frisco, aka the Frisco Pier, a beloved community landmark since it was built in 1962.
Fans of the historic old wooden structure can still enjoy hanging around what's left of the pier through the summer and into the early fall, but come later this year, man will finally accomplish something Mother Nature has been unable to do -- take it down.
With every northeaster or hurricane passing close by Hatteras -- or even way offshore -- a little more of the Frisco Pier has fallen into the ocean, and pilings and planks have been washed up on shore, sometimes over the dunes and right onto Highway 12.
Although no one wanted it to end this way, the National Park Service, which has owned the pier since 2013, will finally demolish it, probably beginning in late fall.
John Kowlok, chief of maintenance for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, says that the demolition has been funded and that the job will be put out for bids this summer.
'We plan to start the contract late this fall to minimize the impacts to both the fall beach visitors and the wildlife," Kowlok said this week.
The seashore has already completed an underwater dive survey of the pier, which revealed that there are a total of 263 pilings that need to come out, including 139 that are underwater. The contractor will be required to take down the pilings, planking, and the pier house.
"The contract will have a period of performance of 120 days," Kowlok said, "but we do not expect the actual project to take that long. The period of performance allows the contractor time to schedule, obtain whatever materials and/or equipment are needed, and mobilize on the site."
He said seashore officials estimate that the demolition will be completed in 30 to 60 days.
Ironically, some pier fans have just started a social media petition to save the pier.
David Hallac, the seashore's superintendent, said he has received some phone calls about repairing and preserving the pier.
"We do respect and appreciate the memories and the pier's value to the community," Hallac said this week. "But, based on its current condition, it's just not feasible to repair it."
The pier's previous owners, Tod and Angie Gaskill, struggled to save the pier during the decade they owned it before they finally sold out to the Park Service, an effort that Tod said in an interview three years ago left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Tod Gaskill was born on Hatteras Island about the time the pier was built and was raised here. He said he’s not a fisherman and had never fished off the pier, but he recognized its importance as a cultural landmark, tourist attraction, and economic boon.
In 2003, after the pier was damaged by Hurricane Isabel, Gaskill bought it to try to save it.
“It was not to line my pockets,” Gaskill says. “I knew the pier was not a money-making operation.”
He says he spent $400,000 to buy the pier and repair it. “Not a soul put anything in it but me.”
“I never saw one dime out of the pier,” he added.
But the old wooden pier just kept getting battered by storms and parts of it fell into the ocean. Gaskill also said that the effort to save it was hampered by a load of bad pilings that was delivered to him and that quickly failed.
The last year that the pier was open for the season was 2008. By the next year, the structure needed extensive repairs, and the economy on the island -- along with the rest of the country -- was tanking in a recession.
Gaskill, owner of Top Dollar Construction, moved part-time to Galveston, Texas, to find work. Angie stayed here to try to get the pier reopened.
By then, the Park Service was having the pier inspected by an engineering firm to see if it was even safe to open it to the public. Though the Gaskills owned the pier business, they operated it under a concession contract with the National Park Service.
Gaskill said in 2013 that he approached the Park Service for help in finding the money to rehabilitate the structure. At first, he says, the Park Service was encouraging.
“They told me, ‘We want the pier…We know it’s important to the island and its people.’”
However, nothing worked out, in large part because the pier was a privately owned business, not eligible for some grants and public monies, according to park officials at the time.
Gaskill said he looked for help from the county and the business community. About the same time, the state was spending $25 million to replace the old wooden Jennette's Pier in Nags Head with a new concrete structure. Gaskill said he didn't understand why an arrangement could not be made to get some public money to help the Frisco Pier.
“At one point,” he said, “three million could have built a nice pier there.”
He said he offered to relinquish his ownership to anyone who was willing to get the pier back up and running. Ultimately, he said in a 2012 interview, that he would like to see the pier redone and turned over to the county or the state, but realistically, he would consider any viable offer or plan.
“The public needed to get behind it,” he said, “but they never did.”
Darrell Echols, who was deputy superintendent of the seashore in 2013, said the Park Service did all it could to try to help find financing and keep the pier in place.
However, nothing worked out, and eventually the Gaskills' concession contract ran out. Since only pieces of the pier were still standing, they couldn’t reopen it.
“I think it’s a raw deal for Hatteras Island,” Tod Gaskill said after the 2013 sale. “It’s a landmark for the island, and I thought it should stay there.”
Gaskill said he had done all he could to get the Park Service to help rehabilitate the pier or to get the community interested in forming a non-profit to take it over.
Nothing worked, and, although he said at the time that he was not “mad at anyone,” he also said that he felt mistreated by the seashore officials.
“The Park Service has been playing me hard for eight years,” Gaskill said back then.
In the end, he adds, “They shoved me in a corner and said sell or we’ll see you in litigation…They were going to take it from me anyway.”
In September 2013, the Gaskills reached an agreement with the National Park Service to sell their interests in the pier, the pier house, the parking lot, and the Cape Hatteras Pier Drive, the road from Highway 12 to the parking lot. Gaskill said the sale price was $160,000, up from the $59,000 he said he was first offered.
“It’s just a sad thing that people never really did rally around it,” Gaskill said back then.
However, even when the community does rally around one of the old wooden piers, it's not easy to keep them safe and repaired, as the owners of the Rodanthe Pier have found out as that northern Hatteras icon gets beat up in coastal storms. The last one -- a northeaster over the winter -- took 500 feet off the end.
Fans of the Rodanthe Pier have started several Go Fund Me pages, and the owners have continued to patch it together.
The Avon Pier has fared somewhat better in storms. The pier property was purchased in 2014 by Koru Village, which is owned by Joe Thompson. It is also operated under a concession contract with the National Park Service.
And, up and down, the North Carolina coast, the old wooden piers are a threatened species -- their old wooden pilings and planks are giving in to the constant pounding by ocean storms and the high price to repair or replace them.
The demolition of the Frisco Pier will be a big loss for southern Hatteras Island.
Even in its current state of disrepair, the old pier is still a people magnet. Besides the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the "space ship" in Frisco, it is probably the most photographed site on the island.
After each storm passes by, folks are amazed by the steadfast remaining pilings, which just seem to refuse to give up to the battering surf. But, at this point, the pier is a public safety hazard that needs to come down. If it does fall of its own accord in a big enough storm, the remaining pilings will become battering rams.
Meanwhile, there's still time to spend a lazy summer afternoon or perhaps a breezy fall day hanging out at the Cape Hatteras Fishing Pier in Frisco.
For sure, the pier's better days will live on in the memory of many Hatteras islanders and visitors.
Future of the Frisco Pier is still uncertain - June 4, 2012
Farewell to the Frisco Pier? - Sept. 2, 2010
Frisco Pier unlikely to open this season - May 28, 2010
Owners explore opening part of the Frisco Pier this summer - April 23, 2010
The future of the Frisco Pier is unclear - July 24, 2009