Exactly 30 days after they closed because of the coronavirus emergency, beaches in Flagler County reopened for the first time at 7 this morning, for three hours anyway, as they will every morning for a three-hour window in a limited initiative to give residents the chance to exercise, fish, walk their dog and breathe in the ocean air but not socialize in large groups or lounge anywhere.
For those who took advantage of the reopening, the response was grateful and enthusiastic, with thumbs up, sighs of relief, unbidden smiles and looks very similar to those in more northern climes when residents amble outside to enjoy the scenery after a lengthy blizzard. But in Flagler Beach this morning, the reopening didn’t quite draw a flock of people.
The New York Times in June 1969 ran a story headlined “Flagler Beach Has More Sand Than People.” That was pretty much the scene this morning, block after block from North 7th to North 15th Street. There were people of course, but the phrase “few and far between” was, for once, not a cliche. You could stand between two walkovers, look either way, and see no one in that span. Further off, you could spot people walking singly or in couples, a couple of people fishing here and there, a man walking his dog, a man sipping coffee, a woman, her face covered in a bandanna–the only person spotted wearing a face covering of any sort this morning. A few people took a baptismal step or two into the surf, and every once in a while, the faint rumble, barely louder than the waves, of a patrolling ATV. There were still many more ATV tracks than footprints in the sand, as there would be even by 10 a.m., when the window closed.
For those who were on the beach, it was a rediscovery.
Melanie Smith was walking the sands by herself. “Wonderful,” she called the experience, “because I’m much a beach person, so I was ready this morning to come out here.” She’d been exercising around her neighborhood during the lockdown. “The fresh air, the scenery–much better, much better to be here. I missed the beach.”
She was not nervous about being out near, or at least nearer, people, having been in the deep trenches at work throughout the emergency: Smith supervises the Baker Act unit at Halifax hospital in Daytona Beach, where a couple of staff members were exposed from other family members, so a lot of staffers had to be tested, including herself. “I’m actually waiting on my test results now,” Smith said, describing the nerve-wracking period she’s going through, waiting. She had to send her six-year-old to her dad’s to stay for a week until everything is cleared up. She expects results by Thursday. “But still wanted to come out and get some fresh air.”
A lifeguard who’s been patrolling the beach since sunrise said “everyone has been really compliant and no one has given us a hard time.” He’d passed by, as would a police officer a little while later, a pair of people sitting on beach chairs and fishing, even though chairs are not allowed according to current regulations, though Ralph Rivero, who took a walk on the beach with his wife Nancy, said he “didn’t like being harassed when we sat on a piece of driftwood.” The Palm Coast couple said the lifeguard was very polite, but said they had to keep moving.
People had begun gathering at walk-overs even before the opening. “I have to give two thumbs up to our community. People are doing a really, really good job this morning, especially for the first day that the beach is reopened,” Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney said. There’d been a medical call to 911 at the north end of the beach in the 9 to 10 o’clock hour, someone had collapsed, but other than that. There’d been no incidents.
Steve Adams of Flagler Beach was walking the beach with his 10-year-old daughter Sydney. “It’s good to be back on the beach,” he said. Sydney had spent the month playing games, fishing in the backyard, “going on walks, riding our bikes.” The difference? “The sands, the ocean sounds,” Steve said. “It’s just nice to be out on the sands and wide open and see the ocean.” His suggestion for local lawmakers: “We’d like to see it open longer for more than three hours, so hopefully the residents will listen to what they’re saying as far as keeping their distance.”
Pete Padilla and Sherry Augustyniak of Palm Coast were in the habit of going to the beach every day or every other day, so the lockdown was quite a change. They were on the beach again this morning, Sherry picking up shells and keeping her eyes open for debris. “It was kind of depressing not being at the beach,” Padilla said. “It’s been good waves, good weather, and we’re stuck at home doing nothing.”
“It smells great out here,” Augustyniak said. There’s not too much debris, like I usually go around and pick up. It looks great. Beach looks great. Not very many plastics on there.”
“They’re right to keep people moving, no sitting around,” Padilla said, offering his report card to rule-makers. “I think they’re doing good by starting out at minimal hours.”
Richie and Antoinette Allen of Palm Coast had driven in and biked in early this morning to embrace the reopening, as they seemed very much to do, sittin on a bench by a walkover, Antoinette with her eyes closed, facing the sun, worshipful.
“We’re staying away from people,” Richie said, joyous to be back. The lockdown made him feel “like I was a kid, like I was grounded,” he said. Going in the backyard “is not like this,” Augustyniak said. They thought it’d be busier. “The perception was that it’d be crowded. I thought it might be a little more crowded,” Richie said, though that lends more credence to the effort to reopen the beach. His suggestion: open it up a little longer. “Unless people are congregating, I don’t even see why it was closed,” he said. “I guess it’s hard to police it. We did go to Daytona yesterday, rode bicycles, and you know, it’s much more touristy, Daytona. The beach, it was the same as here, scattered people, walking, and they haven’t closed at all, so I think it could be opened full time, just as long as people don’t congregate in large groups.”
Regan Hansen and her dog Izzie took a stroll on the beach for a few minutes at the south end of town. “She went running in the ocean,” Hansen said. “I’m actually impressed that it’s not crowded, people are remaining calm and enjoying the exercise.”
Flagler Beach City Commissioner Rick Belhumeur was driving around town this morning, checking the beaches, checking the city’s ongoing–and still controversial–swale-digging project. He liked what he saw on the beach.
“I’m OK with it now,” he said. “A couple of arrogant fishermen brought their fishing poles and were sitting on chairs, they’re not supposed to be. Other than that, I didn’t see any problems from what I saw. There’s not supposed to be chairs or umbrellas or coolers.” Belhumeur called it “a good first step toward normalcy. We’ll see how the weekend plays out. We don’t have many surfers out there because the water is flat. But they’ll be out in the water. I don’t think they’re going to be an issue. I’m looking forward to us get on the downslide of all this.”
But he wouldn’t project about when that normalcy might be. “There’s so many unknowns, there’s no way of knowing,” Belhumeur said. “I’m not even going to guess. I try not to sit and watch too much television. They have to keep talking, so they keep finding new things–it’s going to re-emerge and all that. It probably will, but who knows when. They’re all over the chart on that, when there may be a second phase.”
Fellow-City Commissioner Eric Cooley was working at the 7-Eleven he owns on South Oceanshore Boulevard. The reopening hasn’t made any difference for him, business-wise. “We won’t see any improvement in business until it’s safe enough for the boardwalk to open,” Cooley said.
Until the public health director and the police chief agreed that closing the beach was the wiser approach, Cooley had been the only city commissioner to push for closing the beach over a month ago, even though he was reaping considerable profit from the business traffic it beachgoers were generating. “Honestly, we’re OK with that. That’s what you have to do to keep everybody safe. I don’t want to be run-over busy because it’s too soon. I have to try to keep my head afloat, pay bills, but I also don’t want to put anybody at risk, whether it’s us or the customers, that’s why we have all these safety measures all over the store.”
If Cooley’s store was frozen in time and visited by time travelers from a different century, it could be their small museum to the 2020 pandemic: a hand-sanitizer dispensing station hangs from the door at the entrance. A huge plexiglass pane now swaths down from the ceiling between customers and store clerks at the front of the store. A rack is covered in bandanas, with words of advice on face-covering. There are signs everywhere about keeping one’s distance. Coolley has a limit of 10 people in the store, including staff. He tries to keep the entry door open at all times, except when bugs are too much. Staffers, including Cooley, wear N-95 masks and gloves at all times. “What I decided when all this started is if I couldn;t keep it safe, I wouldn’t do it.”
As for the limited reopening of the beach, he said “our hand was forced. Every beach on the East Coast is open. We can’t be the odd man out. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not practical, and it’s a terrible move politically and for our citizens. So if we can give while being cautious, we’ll try to do that. The problem is though, everybody is very antsy, and everybody wants everything open now.” He cautioned against repeating the “double-hump” that the flu epidemic of 1918 did, returning that fall more virulent and deadly than its earlier onslaught. “People got tired of the norms that were in place because of that first wave,” Cooley said. “Then the second wave hit. As long as we can continue to move forward without that happening and we learn from the past, that’s the fine balance that we’re playing.”
Shortly after 10 a.m., there were a few stragglers still on the beach, but otherwise it was back to that desertic feel.
Charlotte Tomey says
So, if we fish we go back to Volusia! How absurd.
Born and raised here says
It was nice to get my board out in the water, waves were moderate, had a few rides.
Eva Mowry says
Bravo Brava Flagler County! Keep up the vigilance, get the few who can’t be adults off the beach and ban them. And pay special attention on the weekends so they don’t have to close it again! Thank you for minding the conditions we need to keep it open!!
From the commissioner who just can’t help himself. “A couple of arrogant fisherman brought their fishing poles and were sitting on chairs” What would you have them do jog up and down the beach while fishing? Fishing is pretty much a wait and see type of activity. A lot of folks that fish are older and have a whole bunch of physical issues that makes it rather difficult to stand for a prolonged period of time. To minimize some of that discomfort, they might sit on a chair, a overturned bucket or whatever to alleviate the discomfort. Yet for some reason you felt the need to comment on this.
Do you know what is said about opening one’s mouth and proving what others are thinking”? Well you did it again
The rules are simple, use the beach for activities. If you cant stand while you are fishing, you shouldn’t be there- the rules specifically says NO CHAIRS OR SITTING. I don’t understand why people think they can do whatever they want and then become “arrogant” to the the ones that are just trying to do their jobs. Please be respectful and responsible so they don’t close the beaches again.
Your killing me! What is so horrible about sitting down while fishing?? Perhaps the fisherman were disabled veterans. Actually, I believe it says no coolers either, so how do you keep bait or the fish you may catch edible? Further, IIrc the rules say that you have to keep moving. Given that while fishing one is usually standing in one spot that is kinda hard to do. Thinking about it what is so darn horrible about siting on the beach in a chair as long as you maintain a proper social distance? After all that’s what all this is about.
Perhaps those who came up with these rules could fine tune them a bit.
Use fishing lures only and catch and release only.
If you wamt to sit stay home in your backyard. You will probably catch the same amount considering you dont catch much amyways.
Because then how do you tell everyone else they can not sit ???
Sharon Boughner says
What’s so terrible about sitting on chairs or tanning on towels…oh wait…it is not allowed right now. If on the first day some jackass fisherman can’t follow the simple rules during a 3 hour window, then what do you think the masses will do??? The beach rules are in place for a reason. They apply to everyone.
Any jackass who hides behind “but ITS THE RULES” instead of answering to the absurdity of the reasoning behind some of them knows damn well they’re already wrong.
Cowards have made these rules and now they can’t admit they screwed up on at least one and fix it. But that’s okay,all us middle-aged women who have a hard time walking due to things like “arthritis” and can’t speed-walk or stay walking on the sand, let alone walk very far will just inside, at home, some more, instead of taking in fresh air and being on OUR beach.
What the hell is wrong with some of you? Not one person who has walking issues but still likes to sit on the damn sand, ALONE, socially distant from everyone else, will ever take you seriously, with such a ridiculous posturing, which–yes, discriminates, because it treats individuals or groups of people differently. The county is well-aware of this, and trust me, this stupidity over “sitting on chairs” isn’t going to go on much longer.
So pay attention already, because nobody should have to keep repeating this: there is NOTHING DANGEROUS ABOUT SITTING IN THE SAND BECAUSE OF COVID19. Not now, and not ever.
Maria Darcy says
Motherworry, Your comments are spot on! Those that oppose your thinking are the sheep being led to the slaughter! This is not about a virus anymore, but rather the thirst for power.
Flaglerlive, thank you for posting such nice pictures of our beach.
Thank you Layla.
Well maybe it was not crowded because people had things to do during the limited timeframe! Like myself. As for sitting and or resting..I am disabled and may need to rest at times while walking…So I know there will be an issue if I am harassed about this..I hope police and or authorities are careful not to infringe on handicapped and or disabled American citizens…That would cost the County a lot of money in legal fees and judgements I would think.
They’ve already been put on notice, and there is going to be follow-up for those who have ignored it.
I wanted to take a walk on the Malacompra beach with my dog this morning but we found the parking lot closed and a Sheriff’s deputy politely informed me that parking along the street is not allowed.
There’s no sign forbidding parking and if I wasn’t lucky to ask the officer I could have received a citation. I hope that this issue is going to be clarified soon.
Seems to me that the commissioner was re-reminding (yep, said it twice) everyone that the opening is for activity and chairs are not allowed. And it is simple. Sucks that some will be affected, but there may be other fishing spots around where they can bring chairs. Just not the beach and just not at this time.
Bottom Feeder says
Either ALLOW fisherman and fisherwoman a chair or bucket to sit on while fishing. If you don’t, you going to have to SHUT DOWN the whole beach again….. So says my LAWYER …. Youv’e seen his commercials on TV . So make the changes QUICKLY before I start a Law Suit against the city !!!!
Take it further please, like I am–forget “fishing”–there is NOTHING DANGEROUS ABOUT SITTING. Period. Particularly if you’re ALONE.
Pissed in PC says
Why was Melanie Smith out anyway? She was awaiting test results after being exposed to coworkers that had also been exposed to the virus? If I’m not mistaken if you have to get tested, you have to self quarantine until your results come back. Not to mention she had to send her son away while waiting. That’s pretty damn selfish being out in public! Does the sheriff not enforce making these people stay at home?
No beach for me to walk on, I’ll just wait this out after reading someone possibly carrying the virus was out there.
So someone that works in a hospital that both patient and staff infected, is potentially infected, got tested, did her own precautions, still hasn’t gotten test results back, came out into the open on the first day we reopened the beach?
Didn’t we try to warn you boomers against this? Hope everyone that went to the beach gets a mandatory 2 week quarantine so they get stuck back where they belong.
Bob Z says
Silly – if you open it for a few hours open it all the way and if people are gathering in a group tell them to leave…how hard is that? This is the QUIETEST time of year in Flagler County and the nicest because of the weather and they close the beach and then open it for a few hours?! And I hope someone with a handi-cap placard wishes to park in one of the spots they blocked off and are stopped from doing so – any lawyers out there looking for work?
Common sense has gone bye-bye! Is the bad virus passed while sitting alone in a chair? People will use their God given common sense and avoid other people as necessary. Go to the beach with people you are couped up with and now you can’t be together? BS! Open the damn beach! Allow parking. Close Walmart and Publix if you want to stop the spread. Quit infringing on our constitutionally protected rights. We know the risk and we adjust accordingly without your control, control, control.
While I am grateful to have the beaches in FLAGLER County opened—even on a limited basis—I don’t see the validity of having one section open during the morning and another section open at night. Especially when I have to pass the morning section to get to the evening section. This confused more than one resident Wednesday night.
Free citizen says
Absolutely absurd! Who in their right mind agrees to this? Our rights as free citizens are being taken away! We are being told when we are allowed to walk on a public beach and people are ok with that!?!? I am disgusted! This is about controlling us, not about keeping anyone safe!
Mark A Mason says
What are the hours besides 7am – 10 am , I thought there was a 5pm -7pm also.
Beaches outside Flagler Beach are also open from 6 to 8 p.m. daily, in addition to the morning hours.