By DOTTY NIST
Residents had lots of ideas to share about beach access signage at a workshop on the evening of Jan. 31 at the South Walton Annex.
This was the second of two workshops hosted by the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) on that date to gather public comment, with that input to be presented to tourism council members as they consider how to proceed with signage at the accesses.
An issue has been identified with beachgoers not reading signs because there are so many of them at the beach accesses. As Dave Sell, TDC beach maintenance coordinator, explained, what has happened in the past is that, when there has been a problem to be addressed, a sign has been added at the beach accesses. Today, in addition to the large signs identifying the beach accesses, there are multitude of smaller signs, a number of those applying to county ordinances.
Signs warn beachgoers not to walk on the dunes, to obey swimmers’ advisory flags, to avoid rip currents, not to drive on the beach or take their dog on the beach without a permit, not to take glass bottles on the beach, and not to leave items on the beach overnight. At accesses where no lifeguard is on duty, there is a sign stating that. There is also signage giving the address of the beach access and telling beachgoers to call 911 in the event of an emergency.
The tourism council will soon take a look at reworking the beach access signage, with some of the messages likely to be consolidated. Sell spoke to the need to solve this problem in order to achieve a less cluttered appearance at the accesses.
Six community members attended the Thursday evening workshop, with three citizens having attended the morning session.
Michael Sturdivant kicked off the comment period with the observation that the signage is frequently repetitive, with the same message being repeated on one or more signs at each access. He suggested that the TDC conduct a periodic review of signage at the accesses to prevent this and target obsolete signs for removal. Sturdivant recommended using a standard font, color and material for signs whenever possible.
Sell displayed a “sign kiosk” that the TDC had experimented with to combine some of the small existing signs. He said one complaint made was that the beach access identifier signs were difficult to see from the road because most of them stand at the front of the dune walkovers.
Jacquee Markel suggested that these signs should be placed closer to the road.
Sturdivant called for using the height of surrounding vegetation as the maximum height for signs—and turning signs to a north-south rather than east-west orientation in order to avoid blocking the line of sight to the beach and gulf. He also brought up the idea of placing some of the information on structures at the accesses or on the rails of the dune walkovers to be read by people walking along them to the beach.
Markel suggested condensing sign verbage, possibly with the use of bullet points, and making the signage more visual, using eye-appealing color highlighting.
Jim Bagby urged for determining which of the information is critical for beachgoers to see, the access address and 911 information, for example, and placing that in a location where beachgoers can easily see it. Some of the information, he argued, may not be noticed but is helpful when a code enforcement officer approaches a person not following one of the rules. He noted that the officer can point to the sign and ask the person, “Didn’t you see that?”
Blaine Dargavell asked for consideration of what could be done to “break out of the box” regarding signage.
Bagby recommended using a “branding symbol” and putting it by the road with signage identifying the property as “public beach access.” All other pertinent information, he noted, should be placed where it can be seen from the beach.
However, Markel was of the opinion that tourists anxious to get to the water would not read signs after getting on the boardwalk. In front of the boardwalk would be the place to let them know not to take dogs or glass on the beach, she commented.
Sturdivant recommended putting emergency information in red rather than black. He also commented on the water quality signs that the health department had placed on the beach at one time, saying that their placement on the beach had not been optimal.
Sturdivant then delved into the issue of private signs placed on the beach by subdivisions and homeowners. Some such signs read “private beach” and warn against trespassing. Some also cite a state statute that is not applicable.
Sturdivant called for the monitoring of all private signs in the beach area, with the aim of ensuring compliance with all sign ordinances, and removal of any signs, posts, ropes or fences placed illegally forward of the Coastal Construction Control Line. He also suggested placement by the county of signage informing of the public of their right to traverse the coastline.
Beach Code Enforcement Officer Jeff McVay commented that, until recently, code officers had not been empowered to enforce state statutes prohibiting unpermitted private signage south of the CCCL. However, McVay said that a provision in the newly-adopted revised Walton Beach Activities Ordinance had granted county code officers this ability.
Resuming discussion on the TDC beach access signs, Mary Nielson said that while in another area she had seen good-sized, sturdy poles with a number of signs attached to the poles.
Markel commented that she thought there were plenty of designers in the local area who would be willing to help create appealing new signage.
The comment period concluded with a suggestion by Nielson for a contest whereby local residents would be asked to submit a design for the signage and would compete against each other for the best submittal. Markel stated her support of the idea, adding that such a process could help relations between the TDC and the community.
Thanking the participants, Sell provided an email address where additional comments on the topic could be sent: firstname.lastname@example.org.