Gandy Beach is a throwback to an era when one could drive up the Florida shore and go for a swim without encountering condominiums, admission fees or a litany of rules.
But rules are coming to this little strip of Tampa Bay shoreline on the Pinellas County side of Gandy Boulevard.
And that’s a sad necessity.
Our region is no longer a sleepy rural community. Thriving West Central Florida now has more than 3 million people, and that growth, along with boosting the economy, has boosted the likelihood of public places being overused or trashed.
Rules may be an annoyance, but they also help avoid conflict and abuse.
As the Tribune’s Josh Boatwright reports, the Florida Department of Transportation recently posted signs where people pull off Gandy Boulevard onto the waterfront with a list of prohibitions.
The restrictions are hardly the work of busybody killjoys. They are aimed at boorish behavior that commonly occurs.
It should not be necessary to tell people to clean up after their pets or not leave fast food packages along the shoreline, cut protected mangroves or throw dirty diapers in the Bay.
Anyone with a smidgen of concern for others or the landscape should recognize that the slender bit of shoreline is no place for racing all-terrain vehicles.
Other restrictions are aimed at popular activities that can lead to problems: No gathering around open fires, drinking alcoholic beverages or, most notably, trespassing from dusk until dawn for anyone not fishing.
Nighttime gatherings too often turn into drunken revelries.
The rules are all based on existing county ordinances, and DOT erected the signs to address persistent offenses.
As DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson put it to Boatwright: “We have had numerous issues in this area, including people dumping boats and tires, drag racing, people using ATVs and trashing the beach.”
No doubt, the majority of Gandy Beach visitors are respectful of the environment and others. But clearly a hands-off attitude will only result in the ruin of the shoreline for everyone.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has no immediate plans to rigorously patrol the area. The focus will be on educating visitors. We hope Gandy Beach patrons will police themselves, report any mischief and minimize the need for supervision.
The need for people to police themselves can’t be overstated. The next time you visit Gandy Beach or any of the wonderful conservation lands we have in the Tampa Bay area, take a trash bag. Put any garbage you generate in it, and pick up any litter you see.
A few months ago, we were visiting Citrus County’s Crystal River Preserve and met a retired gentlemen who told us he had complained to his wife about the litter visitors toss or carelessly leave behind along the inlets, backwaters and trails.
Her response: “Quit complaining, and do something about it.”
He walks around every day, weather permitting, with a garbage bag and a long stick with a nail in the end that he uses to pick up trash.
We’d like to see Gandy Beach’s free and easy atmosphere preserved as much as possible. In today’s Florida, it can be hard to find a place to get away from it all. But it can be even harder to get away from destructive troublemakers.