Eglin on patrol as beachgoers weigh in on territory dispute
By Lauren Sage Reinlie | Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach | Published: March 31, 2014
DESTIN, Fla. --- Mindy Floit has visited this stretch of white, sandy beach on the west side of the East Pass almost every nice-weather weekend of her life. But Sunday was different.
"This is the first time I've ever seen them out here," the 34-year-old said, watching two uniformed Air Force security officers patrol the beach.
Though small, the thin stretch of beach running south of the Marler Bridge has become largely disputed territory.
Eglin Air Force Base owns the land, but it has been open to the public for years. Last week, officials threatened to close the beach if businesses don't stop operating from the shoreline. State law prohibits commercial activity there.
The threat came on the heels of citations issued to members of Timberview Helicopters, which had set up a large helipad in the water just off the beach. The company moved its barge on Saturday.
On Sunday, Eglin officers walked the beach ensuring that rules were being followed. They asked boaters to anchor in the water, not up on the shore.
One Niceville man was asked to move his anchor. The officers calmly explained what they were requesting and appeared understanding when the man said he did not know that was a rule, even though he had come to the beach many times before.
The man's boat was one of a handful that had pulled up and anchored on shore.
Dozens more people had come by car and set up camp on the beach with coolers and lawn chairs.
They sipped beers, cast fishing poles or watched their kids play in the sand.
A woman pulled up to the shore on her paddle board and hauled it back up to the nearby parking lot.
Sitting on the water's edge, visitors can see Crab Island, boats coming in and out of the Destin Harbor and beyond the jetties, the Gulf of Mexico stretching out to the horizon.
"It's just a good, little spot," said Brad Alan, a 30-year-old who drove over from Milton. He sat in a chair with his wife, Emily, snacking on a pizza they brought with them. "The water is murky today, but on a nice summer day it's crystal-clear blue."
Floit agreed that on nice days, the spot will have beautiful water like the Gulf, but without the waves.
"It's perfect for the kids," she said as she watched one of her sons play with a Frisbee. "And it's not a party atmosphere. It's more family friendly."
While no businesses were seen operating on the beach Sunday afternoon, they do come out during the summer.
Floit said she thought people rented jet skis off the shore during the summer, and she loves when a little boat pulls up to the shore and sells ice cream to her kids.
But, she was glad the helipad was gone.
"It was an eyesore," she said. "And a safety concern, with them flying a little too close for comfort."
She said she understood they were just trying to run a successful business, though.
The helipad didn't bother everyone. For Alan, watching the helicopters take off and land was part of the fun.
"It's entertaining: boats, helicopters, the Air Force flying by," he said. "You never know what you're going to see."