North end of Fort Lauderdale beach may get lifeguard, parking meters ... and rules
By Brittany Wallman
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted April 30 2007
FORT LAUDERDALE -- On the north end of the public beach, surfers rule. Kayakers are welcome. Fishermen and even dogs have their day.
But what will happen when the city officially sanctions this area for swimmers?
That's what they're waiting to find out.
City commissioners are planning changes to the laid-back strip of beachfront north of Sunrise Boulevard and Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. They're expected to give a final vote Tuesday on whether to charge $1.75 an hour for north beach parking for all but city residents.
It would end the last free beachfront parking in Broward County.
The money would be used to station lifeguards on that unguarded strip. Suddenly, the anything-goes north beach would be an official swimming hole. And that's what folks like Kathy Coolman, Oscar mayer Trodick and Tom Ralph are nervous about.
Coolman is a kayaker. Trodick is a kayaker and scuba diver. Ralph is a surfer.
On the city's popular bathing beaches to the south, kayakers must launch from a designated area; surfers, dogs and fishermen aren't allowed at all.
The north end of the beach is their space and a sign on the beach warns against swimming, advising it should be done in a "lifeguard supervised area only." The city even allows dogs at certain hours, with a permit. And fishing is allowed in the evenings.
No decision has been made on whether they could stay if lifeguards arrive, city spokesman Ted Lawson said.
"The commission is changing how that beach is functioning, so we'd look for guidance from them," Lawson said.
The mingling of surfboards and plastic boats with swimmers can be dangerous because of collisions. But the north beach is too precious for the surfers, scuba divers and kayakers to give up, they said.
"That's our favorite spot," said Trodick, whose Kayuba Club members scuba dive with kayaks in tow, on the offshore living reefs.
"It's a great launch site," said Coolman, a member of the Kayuba Club and the South Florida Kayaking Meetup Group.
"I like going there early in the morning. There are so many people out there running. It's like a whole different group of people, up early to watch the sunrise."
Even if the city allows launching from a designated spot, Coolman said that can mean dragging a kayak on the sand a long way from the parking spot.
"It's just hard with a kayak. Mine is a light one and it weighs 45 pounds. It's bulky," she said.
Ralph, chairman of the local Surf Rider Foundation chapter, said he and other surfers don't want to be relegated to a small surfing area when the swimmers come. They say ocean rescue guards should be allowed to decide where surfing is safe, depending on how many swimmers are out.
The Surf Riders are champions of beach access and, of course, surfing access.
"We see more and more development restricting our access to the beach and use of the beach," said Ralph. "Our town isn't getting any smaller."
No one's crazy about paying $1.75 an hour, either.
"I think a lot of people won't come to the beach if it's that expensive," said Quebec snowbird Georgette Gauthier, who said she usually spends four hours at the beach. "It's a bit excessive."
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