Shell Point and Mashes Sands beaches "fully open" to public, Wakulla County commissioner says

By: WCTV Eyewitness News
April 21, 2020

WAKULLA COUNTY, Fla. (WCTV) — Shell Point and Mashes Sands beaches have reopened to the public. Visitors and residents were enjoying the sunshine at Shell Point Beach Tuesday, while still practicing social distancing. However the move does not come without controversy, and the big question: What does this mean for other beaches in our viewing area?

Wakulla County Commissioner Ralph Thomas tells WCTV Tuesday that the move comes after a unanimous vote by the County Comission on Monday. He shares that the board has been monitoring how their local healthcare system has maintained the virus, and they feel it has not been overwhelmed. That is why the county felt it was time to start feeling a sense of normalcy once again, and the first step, is the beaches.

You can hear the waves rolling, the breeze in the trees. It is the sound of paradise. Isabel Mir shares that she could not wait to take her grand kids out to enjoy it, "They have cabin fever, so there is only so many times they can go around the house!"

But those who own property on the water are not necessarily fully on board. Greg Mcinnif owns property at Shell Point. He encourages others to go outside and take in the sunshine. But as he fishes, he can't be shocked by what he sees, "Well I am so surprised that there are this many people here because usually we do not have this many this day of the week."

Joni Fowinkle another Shell Point owner, states "I have mixed emotions. It is a little bit selfish I have to admit," she furthers, "It was nice when it was quiet and you know we sort of had it to ourselves." She does however state she understands why others would want to be out by the water, and just hopes that others respect their beaches.

The decision was one Commissioner Ralph Thomas says comes from the public, "We are not saying hey everybody come down to our beaches, that is not a responsible message. But these beaches are owned by the public and it does not seem responsible to keep the public out of a public resource."

While the sand and sea is now open to everyone the County still asks that others continue social distancing and park in designated areas. But what Commissioner Thomas really wants to stress is the importance of respecting others, "We all have different levels of fear and caution and concern for this, and we need to respect that and take that seriously."

Mir looks at the coastline, seeing the groups of people, abiding by regulations, "I think this is a trial to see how we behave," Mir furthers, "We can't be having a party and having 100 people here, it is not wise."

While some bask in the sun, the question is whether or not beaches in counties like Franklin will follow suit. Commissioner Bert Boldt says they want to be very careful and make a decision based on federal and state guidelines, "The beach is very valuable, it is a great asset, but the health and the health of our people is a valuable asset and we want to make sure we honor every asset to keeping that health."

Thomas states he wants beach goers to enjoy, but play it smart, "Let's enjoy it but let's also keep plenty of room. We are going to get past this and everything will be just fine."

Commissioner Boldt told WCTV , Franklin County is thinking of possibly limiting beach hours for their beaches like St George Island and Alligator Point Beach, however when that will happen is unknown. It is also important to note that while beaches in Wakulla are open, state parks like Ochlockonee River State Park are not. Thomas also states that if conditions do worsen for the County they will re-assess.

Wakulla County Commissioner Ralph Thomas made the announcement of the beaches' reopening on Facebook Monday night.

The county commission first decided to close these beaches because of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 23.

"Please continue to exercise safe distances and groups less than 10," Thomas wrote on Facebook.

The beaches will still close at sundown, and restrictions on camping and liquor will be enforced, according to Thomas. Thomas also said on Facebook that the playgrounds, water fountains, showers and bathrooms will be regularly sanitized to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Beachgoers need to park in designated parking spaces only, not in the right of way, and follow procedures the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, Thomas said.

When asked if people are able to sit and stay at the beach, Thomas replied and said the beaches are "fully open."

You can find the full Facebook post commissioner Thomas made, including the comments, here.

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