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Editorial 618

Missy Layfield - Editor

­­A Day At The Beach

Soon our island will be receiving visitors for the Christmas vacation season. They’ll be treated to an island all dressed up for Christmas with lights and garland to go with the sun and beach and fun they came here for.

Many of those visitors are families. Our island is often described as a family island, the exact meaning of which is never described, leaving the precise definition up to each person.

My definition of a family island is one where all generations feel welcomed; where there are activities and events that appeal to all ages from kids to grandparents; where it’s safe to walk down the beach or the street at any hour of the day or night.

You may have a different definition and we invite you to send it to us here at the Sand Paper.

Some islanders maintain that a family island should not allow liquor to be served on the sand.Others insist that a family island should have limited alcohol sales hours. It seems that the concept of a family island primarily comes up when alcohol is involved.

Transforming our island into one that is truly family friendly will not be accomplished by alcohol restrictions, no matter how stringent they may be. We need a broader approach and a good imagination.

Imagine you are a young family. You bring your 3 and 5 year olds to visit, maybe staying with their grandparents, maybe renting a house or condo. The first day you slather on the sunscreen, gather up all the beach toys and walk down your street, wait to cross Estero, find a beach access and hit the sand. You’re feeling pretty lucky because you scored a place to stay that’s only a 10-15 minute walk to the beach. You’re golden!

Until your 3 year old announces that he has to go, NOW. You grab his hand and head back to the beach access, hoping that maybe you missed a restroom there. Nope, none there, so you head back to the rental, but alas, too late. Three year olds are not very patient when it comes to going. So, you change him and head back to the beach, where the 5 year old announces she now has to go.

So, how are you enjoying your vacation? How friendly does the island feel about now?

Family friendly means kid friendly. Kid friendly means having public restrooms where kids are. Kids are on our beach.

Our beach has public restrooms available only at our Town and County Parks: Bowditch Point Park, Lynn Hall Park, Crescent Beach Family Park and Newton Park.

Those locations serve day visitors who come over the Matanzas Bridge and park and use the beach on the north end pretty well. With the exception of Newton Park, they aren’t convenient for anyone using the beach south of the downtown area, where most of the public beach accesses are located.

The Town maintains 25 public beach accesses from Canal (next to the Mermaid) to Flamingo (across from BB&T Bank). Some have parking, some don’t. There are trashcans and recycling bins at each access. The Town does a fine job emptying those and keeping the accesses picked up. But that’s it for amenities at beach accesses.

A couple years ago, the Town asked the Lee County Tourist Development Council for money to purchase a few mobile restrooms for placement at beach accesses. The only real option was mobile, meaning they could have their water and power service disconnected in the event of a tropical storm, and the units could be removed.To build permanent restrooms would require meeting FEMA elevation rules which would be financially prohibitive.After months of discussion, which included ideas for aesthetic camouflage for the units, the plan came to the Town Council. And died after beachfront homeowners objected.

The need is still there.Families and visitors still come to our island and stay in homes and condos that are not right on the beach.Many of them have small children who need frequent restroom breaks. And let’s be honest, many of our senior residents and visitors also need frequent restroom breaks.

We have nothing to make the beach family friendly for those people.

The Cultural Resources Advisory Board (CRAB) is taking another look at our public beach accesses and considering options for improving them for both residents and visitors.

Some things they might consider include parking, bike racks, foot baths/showers, picnic tables, drinking fountains and restrooms.

Imagine for a few minutes what an ideal beach access with just some of these amenities would look like.

With just a few of those, a day at the beach would become well, a day at the beach, instead of an ordeal of wondering when you need to head back to the house so you can use the restroom.

When this comes up again, let’s hope that Town Council has the will to serve all residents, even those who don’t live beachfront, as well as the visitors who are an important part of our town.

Decisions on public areas need to be made keeping the needs of all the public in mind, not just those who are the loudest or live the closest to public accesses.

Let’s make Fort Myers Beach a truly family-friendly beach for everyone.

Missy Layfield