Beach permits help prevent ‘free-for-all’
SANTA ROSA BEACH, FLORIDA — Officials say event permits keep beaches from “getting out of hand.”
In an effort to organize exclusive coastal gatherings that might not otherwise be allowed by the county’s beach code, the Walton County Tourist Development Council offers permits for shore-side shindigs.
According to Brian Kellenberger, director of beach operations for the TDC, the special event permit program launched in the early 2000s as more and more couples wanted to have their weddings on the beach.
His hope was to peacefully organize events that might obstruct access for other visitors.
“If you let everybody do whatever they want, pretty soon you lose the desired atmosphere of the beach,” Kellenberger said. “South Walton’s idea is natural beauty.”
David Demarest, the TDC’s communications director, added that permits also preserve the beach and help South Walton live up to the hype it’s created over recent years.
“The permitting process is important because it limits activity and commerce on the beach, keeping things from becoming a free-for-all,” Demarest said in an email. “It’s important to protect both the aesthetic of South Walton’s Beaches and the quality of experience that our visitors expect and our locals have grown up with.”
In addition to promoting orderly access, the permits also protect wildlife.
Even with a permit, gatherings can’t be within 100 feet of turtle nests and glassware is prohibited.
Events that use what Kellenberger called “party lights,” or white lights that can prevent turtles from coming ashore, require an additional permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection before being approved by the TDC.
Permits for special events of up to 10 people cost $150, $250 for up to 30 people, $500 for parties of more than 75 people and $1,000 for more than 1,000 guests. Events of 100 or more people also require security, Kellenberger said. While permits can be applied for online, payment is only accepted in person, by mail or over the phone.
Although event permits do give people special access to the beach, they don’t provide exclusive use, he added. They strictly permit activities on already available areas.
“Our department has gotten (its) arms around it very good,” Kellenberger said. “We’ve made the special event process easy to maneuver through, and more importantly, we have made it so that everybody that’s on the beach is enjoying the beach.”
For more information or to apply for an event permit, visit www.co.walton.fl.us.