One man's freedom is another man's loss of freedom:
State Superior Court denied the claim in 2014 and granted a summary judgment for Emerald Isle. The Nieses also lost their appeal in November 2015. The state Court of Appeals, in unanimously affirming the judgment of the lower court, delivered a robust defense of the public trust doctrine.
“[W]e take notice that public right of access to dry sand beaches in North Carolina is so firmly rooted in the custom and history of North Carolina that it has become a part of the public consciousness,” the ruling states. “Native-born North Carolinians do not generally question whether the public has the right to move freely between the wet sand and dry sand portions of our ocean beaches. Though some states, such as plaintiffs’ home state of New Jersey, recognize different rights of access to their ocean beaches, no such restrictions have traditionally been practiced in North Carolina.”
Bolding mine. Although I'm not native-born, I have spent my fair share of time on NC's beaches. I've always viewed the dunes as sort of the border between public and private lands, with the dunes being a sort of "neutral territory." In other words, you can climb up on the dunes to look around and get your bearings, without being in violation of trespass. Depending on how the State Supreme Court rules, that could all change:
If the Supreme Court rules Emerald Isle unlawfully took the Nieses’ property under public trust doctrine, the consequences would be profound. It could mean that every jurisdiction on the North Carolina coast would have to go to every beachfront property owner and come to some form of understanding — an easement, consent agreement or eminent domain payment.
There is, of course, no assurance that everyone would agree to allow the public access to their property. Local officials fear a nightmare scenario of enforcement.