Thursday, March 26, 2020

Say It Isn't So

Coronavirus has closed many beaches in Florida. Is there a safe option to keep them open?

courtsey Of , Treasure Coast Newspapers
My life is like a stroll upon the beach; As near the ocean’s edge as I can go.” ~ Henry David Thoreau, The Fisher’s Boy
I grew up on the beach, pretty much. The first three decades of my life were spent engaged in all manner of activities on a beach somewhere. The past two decades had me going to the beach plenty, too.
Since the middle of last week, we have seen a cavalcade of beach closures around the Sunshine State. Until further notice, beaches are being closed to public access, even if Gov. Ron DeSantis has yet to issue that order himself — and he's said he won't.
City and county officials have deemed it necessary to prevent gatherings of large groups of people to stem the spread of deadly COVID-19.
However — and this is a pretty important distinction — the beach is not closed if one has private access. After all, unlike when a hurricane is approaching, the beach is not unsafe, being in a crowd is.
Condominium owners, beachfront homeowners and members of community associations that have a private access to the beach are allowed to enjoy their salt therapy uninterrupted, as long as there are no large groups. A quick drive up and down Hutchinson Island Monday revealed a bizarre coastal dystopia.
Public beaches such as Jensen, Bob Graham, Bryn Mawr and even the House of Refuge were sealed off by locked gates (the beaches have gates?) or temporary chain link fences. Middle Cove, Frederick Douglass and Waveland beaches had yellow caution tape stretched across their entrances.
Meanwhile, residents of Indian River Plantation in Stuart, Holiday Out just north of the Martin-St. Lucie County line, and other beach clubs along the east side of A1A conducted life as usual. 
Bathtub Beach at the southern end of MacArthur Boulevard in Stuart is closed for repairs as well as COVID-19, but I guess we've grown used to that by now.
The entire process has me wondering if we are going too far with the restriction of access to our favorite places. I get the mandatory closings of bars, restaurants and malls — although coastal Florida depends on its service economy to survive. I am terrified about how deep an economic hole these measures will dig us into.
But to some degree, the parks, beaches and waterways became our only refuge.
While I'm glad they're allowing people to use the park areas of beaches, such as Fort Pierce's South Beach and Kimberly Bergalis Beach that were open Monday, it makes no sense to allow that while prohibiting use of the beaches just beyond the parks. 
What if we could adhere to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to maintain safe distances from others, and still enjoy access, even if limited, to some of these areas? Here are some suggestions:
  • Limit beach access to the number of actual parking spots available. On the Treasure Coast, only a few "large" beach access points have more than 100 parking spots, and those typically offer more than a half-mile of beachfront along the tide line. Don't allow parking along the roadsides or across the street. 
  • Limit beach access to residents of that particular county. What is great about the Treasure Coast is the plentiful number of public beach access points available in all three counties.
  • If these measures still produce too much demand, enact designated days of access. For example, license plates that end in an even number can use the beaches on even-numbered calendar days, likewise of odd numbers. Vanity plates, well, you don't get to go. Sorry! 
I know I'm going to get a lot of heat from those who'll say I'm giving advice that goes against CDC recommendations. Right now, none of these are options because law enforcement is maintaining the closures. I saw members of four different law enforcement agencies patroling A1A Monday.
I also completely understand our government's need to protect some of us from ourselves. I've seen the videos of the spring breakers and remember being one myself many years ago.
But we need to remember, closing beach access punishes those who were following safe guidelines. Beachgoers are more than just spring breakers on Miami, Daytona and Panama City beaches. They are also:
  • Anglers fishing for pompano
  • Walkers getting exercise
  • Dog owners letting their pets stretch their legs
  • Treasure hunters sweeping with metal detectors
  • Trash collectors helping to protect sea creatures by removing garbage that washed up or was left behind
  • Surfers, paddleboarders, kayakers, beach divers and families who are seeking to engage with nature.
At one point or another, I've literally been all of these. 
All I suggest is that perhaps we can be safe and also maintain public access to outdoors recreation for taxpayers who want it, instead of allowing it only for those who paid for a private beach access.
courtsey of  @ Treasure Coast Newspapers

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