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Canaveral National Seashore, National Park Service

FL - Canaveral National Seashore, Playalinda Beach smashed by Hurricane Nicole are ‘not going to be the same’

What makes Canaveral National Seashore so revered in Florida is that visitors can commune with the wildest nature, some two-dozen miles of Atlantic surf rolling onto beaches never reconstructed, far from T-shirt shops and conjuring a sense of before European conquest.

A surprise and decisive beating by Hurricane Nicole in November has altered how visitors, 2.2 million last year, will experience Canaveral’s nature and has set the stage for more disruption to the longest wilderness coast along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Today, nearly a half-century into its existence, the national seashore is at an existential crossroads. The Category 1 Nicole did something more damaging than fling debris of costly boardwalks and bury parking lots under uncalculated tons of sand.

Nicole carved up essential dunes along half of the seashore, removing an incredible amount of sand that had walled off the surf zone and beach from the skinny blacktop and string of parking lots on the other side. Without dunes and their defensive shields of seagrapes and palmettos, scenery is startlingly changed, encompassing at a glance the adjoining waters of the Atlantic to the east and the Indian River to the west.

Canaveral’s southern and most popular stretch of seashore, Playalinda Beach, remains closed for health, safety and access reasons. Parts are littered with splintered boards spiked with stainless-steel nails, its vault-style bathrooms are clogged with sand and the access road and parking lots are navigable in areas only with a well driven four-wheel-drive.

While Nicole drew national headlines for savaging private homes and properties along Volusia County coast to the north, keepers of the public seashore quietly have been trying to formulate how to pursue questions of when, where, under what conditions and, the toughest, if visitors won’t be allowed to venture back to at least some portions of Playalinda.

“I’ve been here 28 years and seen a lot of storms,” said Laura Henning, spokesperson and among a staff of 45 at Canaveral National Seashore.” Now, every time I come here I am in shock. I think everybody is feeling that way.”

The park service’s mission combines environmental protection and visitor enjoyment. There is little inclination for not fully reopening Canaveral’s Playalinda, Henning said, but neither is there much inclination for trying to stop nature from being nature.

“It’s just not going to be the same as it was,” Henning said. “It can’t be.”

The southern half of Canaveral National Seashore, Playalinda Beach, has 14 parking lots strung out along 6 miles of a two-lane blacktop. The lots combined offer 1,200 spaces.

Playalinda in Brevard County was meant to welcome more visitation than the northern end Canaveral National Seashore, Apollo Beach in Volusia County, which has 250 parking spaces along 6 miles of access road.

That’s because when the nation’s space agency acquired lands for what is now Kennedy Space Center, Titusville was robbed of its beach – what is now Playalinda. The National Park Service, in effect, provides the city with its historic beach.

The first five lots and their extensive boardwalks that meet ADA requirements escaped major punishment from Nicole. The dunes along those five beach accesses are the seashore’s tallest and most robust.

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