Beachgoers challenge Martin County on a gated walkway at Santa Lucea Beach

MARTIN COUNTY — Beachgoers are rebelling against the county, both online and at Santa Lucea Beach, after the county closed the entrance to the north beach by filling it with sand.

The trail, which was created without permission by beachgoers over time, was discovered by county workers who determined it was an unauthorized dune crossing that lacked state approvals and federal, said deputy county administrator George Stokus.

The county filled it in with sand this week to keep it from being used, he said, but on Thursday night the sand was shoveled to the side to recreate the path.

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The act of defiance was documented on Instagram by Benjamin Dyall Thursday night. Dyall posted photos showing himself with a shovel and a can covered in a Fish Heads of Stuart koozie with the caption: “Bring beer and shovels. I can’t do it all myself… #getdigging.

At least four strangers came to the scene to help Dyall dig through the night, the Jensen Beach resident told TCPalm on Friday. He spent more than six hours digging after seeing Ohana Surf Shop post a video from the pile of sand on Thursday.

Dyall is a frequent surfer and fisherman in Santa Lucea and said walking through the North Entrance and experiencing its sights and sounds is like “stepping back in time”.

“They shouldn’t take that away from us,” he said. “A lot of us feel like we have a really deep connection to this surf, this water and this beach.”

“If I have to go back out there and dig it again, I’ll dig it again…hopefully the next time I do that I’ll have more people with me,” Dyall added.

Ohana Surf Shop owner Jordan Schwartz said Dyall was not an employee of the store, but knew Dyall from surfing.

The shop’s message encouraged beachgoers to contact county commissioners to explain why access was filled.

The northern access point to Santa Lucea Beach, popular with locals and anglers, seen Friday, Feb. 11, 2021, is being blocked off by Martin County because the county found it n didn't have the necessary permits for the dune crossing to be a beach trail.  Some residents, apparently upset by the change, removed the sand barrier previously placed by the county.  Another access point with a boardwalk exists near the south end of the parking lot.

Schwartz said it was “ridiculous” for the county to close the trail without warning.

“It’s always been beach access,” he told TCPalm on Friday. “We’re going to fight to keep it open.”

A southern entrance to the beach is still open.

Stokus said there was miscommunication between the park and environmental staff, which delayed the realization that no permit had been issued for the walkway. It’s unclear how many years it has been in public use, he said.

County officials plan to refill the road with sand and install a fence and sign to keep it closed, he said.

“Going forward, Martin County is looking at ways to improve communication,” Stokus said. “We are trying to protect our paradise.”

The northern access point to Santa Lucea Beach, popular with locals and anglers, seen Friday, Feb. 11, 2021, is being blocked off by Martin County because the county found it n didn't have the necessary permits for the dune crossing to be a beach trail.  Some residents, apparently upset by the change, removed the sand barrier previously placed by the county.  Another access point with a boardwalk exists near the south end of the parking lot.

“Maybe the timing is long, maybe the communication was bad, but my staff is looking for the best for Martin County,” he said, “and that’s to protect this wildlife and this flora.”

Lina Ruiz is TCPalm’s watchdog reporter for Martin County. You can reach her at [email protected], on Twitter @Lina_Ruiz48 or at 321-501-3845.

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