beach reopening

Jennie McKeon, WUWF Public Media

It’s been nearly two weeks since most local beaches have reopened. Safety officials say, for the most part, people are maintaining their distance and complying with new guidelines. 

“The numbers (of people) are picking up and that’s expected,” said Rich Huffnagle, beach safety division chief for Okaloosa County. “We’re at about 50% occupancy rate compared to what we normally see this time of year. It’s mostly locals.”

Jennie McKeon, WUWF Public Media

The first thing Jane Mihanovich did when she arrived at Okaloosa Island Friday morning was stick her feet in the emerald water. 

“I came here to see and to touch the ocean,” said the native Croatian who moved to Fort Walton Beach in 2007. “When I got in, it felt incredible … indescribable.” 

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media

Walton County beaches opened Friday and people showed up with their umbrellas and coolers in tow. 

But Daniel Uhlfelder showed up in a black linen robe and a plastic scythe. 

Flickr

Destin beaches will also be open May 1. 

City Council members deliberated the issue Wednesday night for more than two hours before voting unanimously to open beaches from dawn to dusk. Beachgoers are to practice social distancing and keep groups to 10 people or fewer. 

Across the Panhandle, county commissions and city councils have had similar discussions. Each have their own hours of operation and restrictions, which the council considered. 

“It makes my head hurt reading it,” said Councilmember Chatham Morgan. 

To open or not to open? That was the question before the Escambia County Commission, in regard to beaches and COVID-19. The decision was hammered out in special session on Tuesday.

“If there’s no more discussion about this I call for a vote about the beach; item passes 5-0,” said Chairman Steven Barry. The vote was taken after Commissioner Robert Bender read the motion to open Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key on Friday, May 1.