Matanzas beach driving halted by Park Service

Troy Blevins, the director of parks and recreation for St. Johns County, told Historic City News local St. Augustine and St. Johns County news desk that as of tomorrow, driving will be allowed on about 14 miles along the county’s 42-mile coast.

At issue is a ruling announced in October by the National Park Service that it would close the beach to vehicles around Fort Matanzas on January 1st — both for the environment and to comply with a federal law set in the 1970’s.

The prohibition of vehicles from traveling outside of roads or parking lots at national monuments was never followed at Fort Matanzas.

Gordie Wilson, the park’s superintendent, said the National Park Service decided to close the beach only after receiving legal advice and discussing the issue with many stakeholders.

The ability to drive on the beach continues to set St. Augustine apart as one of the last locations in northeast Florida that still allows motorists to mix with sunbathers and surfers.

“Cruising the beach” has been a local tradition ever since vehicles first appeared in Florida. Although parts of Nassau County still allow driving on restricted areas of the beach, most of Duval County and all of Flagler County prohibit the practice.

Blevins said, “The County does not plan to close any more of the beach to traffic.”

Those words may be reassuring to some; however, a rally is planned for 2:00 p.m. tomorrow by a group of residents who protest the beach closure by the National Park Service.

According to one of the rally organizers, the purpose of the rally is to convince politicians that the ban is more than an inconvenience. Residents and business owners in the area feel that the beach is their home. Some are saying that closing the beach, which is a state highway between the mean high water mark and the ocean, will have a serious negative impact on tourism.

Blevins said that the County did not play a part in closing the Matanzas beach.

The St. Johns County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution which says that they “support the continuation of beach driving on the Fort Matanzas National Monument property in a manner that allows recreational and economic activity while protecting the environment.”

Unfortunately, the resolution is nothing more than an expression of support. “It’s not our property,” Blevins said. “We really have no jurisdiction.”