Duval, St. Johns Public Beaches Will Remain Closed Despite Public Outcry

Apr 7, 2020

The fight over sand, sea and sun continues around the First Coast – but for now – beaches in Duval and St. Johns counties will remained closed for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry confirmed he’s keeping Duval’s beaches closed and the St. Johns County commission also decided Tuesday in an online video meeting to keep its beaches closed, according to WJCT News partner News4Jax.

Multiple organized efforts have advocated for the reopening of beaches throughout the region since closures began due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

The latest effort: more than 11,000 people have signed a petition to reopen St. Johns County beaches. The petition asked for limited beach hours for St. Johns County residents with a valid ID, and calls the idea a "common sense solution."

Chris Tincher of St. Augustine started the petition. He told First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross Tuesday that limited beach access, if controlled, could help people manage stress during the coronavirus crisis.

"If we're going to promote exercise, and if we're going to tell people we want you out - socially distance at safe distances from each other - being in the water at the beach or walking along the beach is not much different from being told you can walk your dog through your neighborhood or that you can go for a bike ride," Tincher said.

Surfers have signed onto the petition, some arguing that it's unfair for the state to declare golf "an essential activity" during the pandemic, but not their sport. Surfer Gregg Mattson of Fort Caroline started a separate petition asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to make surfing an essential activity in the state.

"I think it's important that we all have some kind of semblance of normalcy in these crazy times," he said. "And I think that for a lot of people who live on the East Coast and in Florida in general, going to the beach and being active was part of their everyday routine. And with so many people at home now and being taken out of so many other normal activities, I think it's important that those of us who go to the beach for exercise regularly still have that option available to us."

Both petitioners pointed out that Volusia and Brevard Counties have started allowing limited beach access, for exercise-related activities only.

"This is a very important issue that's weighing heavily on a lot of us," said Tincher. "For those of us who have a routine of going to the beach four or five times a day to be told now you're not allowed to do that, even though while we're there we are maintaining safe distances from each other is kind of confusing. Because we're seeing other activities still being allowed."

The petitioners' argument is a controversial one. Here's an example of one of the tweets from listeners responding to the segment:

However, Tincher and Mattson say they're undeterred, and are taking up the matter with both the St. Johns County Commission and the governor's office.

"We're trying to create a sensible solution to keep everybody safe," said Tincher.

Melissa Ross can be reached at mross@wjct.org, 904-358-6382 or on Twitter at @MelissainJax.