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Secluded beach soon not a secret

A renourishment project will make it easier to locate public Palmer Point Beach in Sarasota.

Published August 14, 2006

SARASOTA - Bob Streb ran out of adjectives as he surveyed the nearly empty crescent beach. Beautiful. Amazing. Stupendous.

Leading a family of 12 - wife, three daughters, three sons-in-law, four grandchildren - the St. Louis man was on vacation and renting a boat to explore Little Sarasota Bay. A fellow at the rental place told him about a secret, little-used beach that can only be reached by boat.

"It is just phenomenal," Streb said, smoking a thin cigar and looking under the brim of a Panama hat at his family lounging in the shallow water.

On a recent afternoon, the half-mile-long Palmer Point Beach was populated by as few as two beachgoers and as many, when Streb's clan showed up, as 19. And all of them seemed to have a Hernando De Soto kind of story about how they "discovered" the secluded beach.

But next year the beach that time forgot will no longer be such a secret to local sand lovers.

In November, a dredging company is scheduled to start an $11.8-million beach renourishment that extends 2 miles north from the southern tip of Palmer Point Beach. The 150-foot-wide strip of sand that will be added to the eroded beach will make it easy again for anyone who doesn't mind a little walking to reach Palmer Point.

The idea of pedestrians walking to "his" beach didn't sit well with Chase Crumbly.

"We don't want more people!" he said.

Crumbly and his girlfriend, Mallory Maxwell, both from Frostproof, found the beach a couple of months ago while boating, and had returned to relax in the gentle waves while enjoying a beer or two.

Sunbathers Frank Mayer and fiance Lori Lewis, on vacation from Fort Worth, Texas, said the landlord of their rental had told them about it. So they rented a canoe and paddled there.

"We worked really hard to get here," Lewis said, "but it was worth it."

Several talked in near whispers, because they were under the impression that Palmer Point is a private beach, owned perhaps by some negligent wealthy landlord.

But that's true only if you consider Sarasota County to fit that description. Palmer Point Beach is a marooned part of the county's beach system, cut off by erosion and private property from the heavily used Turtle Beach, half a mile to the north. Between Turtle and Palmer beaches are several developments, including Fisherman's Haven and Blind Pass Seawall.

Palmer Point extends from South Siesta Key's southernmost house, which is falling into the Gulf of Mexico, to the end of the key where Midnight Pass has filled in.

The only legal ways to get to Palmer Point Beach are by boat or by picking your way at low tide through rock revetments, then splashing around a huge pink abandoned house that's sliding into the gulf.

Property owners have granted public easements for walking in exchange for permits to harden their parts of the beach, but the walkways don't link.

Reconnecting Palmer Point is a big part of the reason the county was willing to pick up such a large part of the cost of the beach project, said Laird Wreford, the county's coastal resources manager.

Sarasota County and the state are paying for about 80 percent of the project's $11.8-million cost, while residents living along the gulf there will pay about $2.2-million.

That's wonderful news to Christine Bass, who lives on the north end of Siesta Key and ended her frequent bicycle trips to Palmer Point when residents closed their gate to through traffic.

"There's a big sign that says 'public beach,' but nobody can get to it," Bass said. "I haven't been there since they blocked it off."

And she misses her beach. "It's like you're on a paradise island, the water is so many different shades of aqua."

There's probably not much reason for the current habitues of Palmer Point to worry about crowding on their beach.

After all, it still will be a nearly half-mile walk along the restored beach to reach Palmer Point.

"Even though they'd open it to the public, I can't imagine many people would make the walk," Streb said.

The beach project has obvious aesthetic value, including the restoration of Turtle Beach and providing 2 miles of uninterrupted public beach. There are harder financial reasons for doing it, though.

The county estimates that the value of gulf-front private property along those 2 miles is $267-million, and that doesn't include the value of the two public beaches. Protecting the value of that private land, whose owners pay the county more than $1-million a year in property taxes and another $2-million a year to schools, is part of the reason for the project, said County Administrator Jim Ley.

[Last modified August 14, 2006, 01:19:35]

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