customary use

Savannah Vasquez

People visit Destin and South Walton primarily for the beaches.

But local governments are finding there’s little public access to its No. 1 asset. Now, they’re tasked with buying beachfront properties for visitors to enjoy.

The City of Destin has 13 beach access points. Eleven of those are city-owned, one is county-owned and one is owned by the state. Most of them provide only limited access to the beach creating a problem for visitors who want to enjoy the Emerald Coast.

Tonia Shatzel

After six hours of testimony and public comment, Walton County Commissioners voted 5-0 last weekend to take the case of customary use to the circuit court.

The vote is the first step into declaring that beachgoers can access the dry sand areas that are private property.

Customary use is the belief that beaches have been public property as long as humans have used them. And it’s been a big issue in Walton County since House Bill 631 was signed into law in April by Governor Rick Scott.

Tonia Shatzel

On the morning of July 14, longtime Walton County, Florida resident Daniel Uhlfelder decided to go to the beach.

Instead of rest and relaxation, he found himself in the middle of a confusing debate about public versus private property.

In a video posted to YouTube, you see Uhlfelder holding his beach chair and umbrella as he talks to a security guard at Vizcaya Beach who warns him of trespassing on the private beach.

“Can you draw a line for me where trespassing is?” Uhlfelder asked the security guard. “I want to know where to put my stuff.”

Northwest Florida Daily News

Customary Use is a big issue in the state of Florida.

It’s the belief that beaches have been public property as long as humans have used them, which is why counties across Florida have passed customary use ordinances allowing access to both public access points and in front of beachfront homes. 

In April 2018, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 631. The bill, which received bipartisan support, authorizes a person with “superior right to possession or real property” and “prohibits local government from enacting or enforcing ordinance or rule based on customary use.”