Windsurfers protest new swim-only area

Published May 30, 2007

TIERRA VERDE - Last week a line was drawn along the shores of North Beach at Fort De Soto Park, when windsurfers filed a proposal to reclaim a spot now designated for swimmers.

Members of the windsurfing community are upset that buoys that designate swim-only areas at the county park now dot an area that has long been a prime launch location for windsurfers.

The swim-only areas, which are marked by buoys, are so designated from May to September and have been in effect for the past two summers.

At issue for windsurfers is that officials have been inconsistent in enforcing access to the designated areas. The same areas windsurfers have enjoyed all year are now off limits as more people crowd one of the best beaches in the nation.

Two years ago Pinellas County Parks and Recreation Department petitioned the Coast Guard to make a portion of North Beach a designated swimming area, said Bob Browning, supervisor of Parks and Recreation for the Southern District of Pinellas County. For years, the area in question had been considered unsafe for swimming due to rip currents.

Water passing through a cut between the islands sometimes made the currents unsafe, Browning said, but because of the natural buildup of sand, the cut has filled in, making the area safe for swimmers.

The latest designation marks the third safe bathing area at the park. There are 6 miles of beach and about three-fourth of a mile is designated for swimming, where lifeguards are posted from the end of April to September, said Browning.

Although the newest swim area was added almost two summers ago, the debate resurfaced when St. Petersburg resident Ty Heston, a windsurfer who also frequents North Beach, sent a May 18 proposal via e-mail to Parks and Recreation, said Browning.

The proposal expressed concern over the buoys and requested an area specifically for windsurfers.

Browning said the department plans to address the issue after the Memorial Day bustle has died down.

"We're going to work with them - possibly move the north buoys south a little bit, " Browning said.

There are no plans, however, to designate a specific area for windsurfing.

Nicole Bardo-Colon can be reached at 727 893-8779 or nbardo-colon@sptimes.com.