** NEWS UPDATE ** Since this article was published, local officials have changed beach opening dates and made revisions to beach hours and allowed activities. County beaches on Amelia Island will open sooner, May 1, 2020 (instead of May 6th). Read the latest beach news update “Amelia Island Beach Opening Dates Set For County And City Beaches,” published April 29, 2020.
Planned Opening With Limited Hours & Restrictions
Nassau County, Florida’s commission meeting held April 22, 2020 discussed a plan for when and how to reopen the county’s beaches. The beaches will be open with limited hours and restrictions for “essential activities” (i.e. exercise — no sitting).
By the end of the meeting, commissioners had settled on an opening day of Wednesday, May 6, 2020. But an earlier date is possible. This hinges on whether Florida’s Governor swings open the door to Florida State Parks’ beachfront, potentially at a sooner date, than Nassau’s current target of May 6th. If that were to occur, it appears the county would follow the Governor’s lead and reopen their beaches earlier. And the city of Fernandina Beach could, as well.
Nassau County’s Area of Beachfront
On Amelia Island, the area of beachfront under jurisdiction of the county is from Peters Point Park heading south to the border of Amelia Island State Park. The Atlantic seashore within this section of county beachfront includes the Summer Beach Resort area, the Amelia Island Ritz-Carlton, historic American Beach, Omni Amelia Island Plantation, The Residence, and The Sanctuary.
Best Case Scenario
The best-case scenario for reopening Amelia Island’s beaches would be if the entire length of beachfront was reopened at the same time. However, for those not familiar with the situation, the state of Florida has say over Fort Clinch and Amelia Island State Park, Fernandina Beach controls shoreline within the city limits (such as its largest public parks, Main Beach, Seaside Park, and North Beach), and there’s the county’s stretch of the seashore. While opening together island wide is the preferred way to go, this scenario may not materialize.
Peters Point & American Beach
The outcome of Nassau County’s meeting held April 22, 2020, was a unanimous vote by the commissioners to open Nassau’s beachfront on May 6, 2020. The plan is to open the county’s two largest public beach access parking lots at Peters Point and Burney Park at historic American Beach — with limited beach hours from 6 a.m. to noon for essential activities only (for exercise, further detailed below).
Will Beach Driving Be Allowed?
While the paved parking lots at Peters Point and American Beach will be open, driving vehicles onto the beach to park will not be allowed, according to the discussion at the April 22, 2020 meeting.
When Will Fernandina’s Beaches Open?
On, Tuesday evening, April 21, 2020, the city of Fernandina Beach had held another commission meeting that discussed their beachfront. The city commission’s consensus was to keep city beaches closed (without setting any tentative date to reopen beaches).
From the city commission discussion, however, it appeared they would follow the Governor’s lead if Ron DeSantis decided to open Florida State Parks with beaches. Fort Clinch State Park’s Atlantic coast beachfront borders the city of Fernandina’s North Beach area. Beach goers can walk back and forth between the state park and city beachfront on the Atlantic seashore.
A key date for the state could be May 1, 2020, to coincide with the Governor’s end of the 30 day “Safer At Home” executive order. This order is set to expire April 30th, if not extended further. Under a scenario that the Governor reopens State Parks with beachfront, then the local beaches here could be opened sooner than May 6th.
Two County Beach Parking Lots To Remain Closed
Note that two Nassau County beach parking lots will remain closed. These are the Scott Road beach access (pictured above), and the Southend beach access (the small parking lot with staircase/walkway that is in the Amelia Island Plantation area).
According to a Nassau County news release (4/23/2020):
“Many individuals have suggested that the beach just be opened to County residents. However, legal counsel has advised that the Board cannot legally open the beach to some and not others. As a tourist destination, opening the beach will increase tourists to the area and there are still concerns about individuals coming here from areas where COVID-19 is widespread.”
Key aspects of Nassau County’s beach plan are listed below.
Nassau County’s Plan
Limited Beach Hours & Restricted Activities
- LIMITED BEACH HOURS: 6 a.m. to noon.
- NO “ON” BEACH PARKING, (i.e., no driving onto beach)
- Beaches to be open for exercise only. Physical activities such as walking, running, biking and fishing.
- Beach goers cannot be stationary. No sitting or lounging. No beach gear will be allowed (no chairs, umbrellas, tents, blankets, etc.)
- No group sports
- Family/households, keep gatherings to less than 10
- Social distance from others on the beach
- No horses on the beach (or trailers in parking lot)
- No camping (and no campers or RVs in parking lots)
- No commercial activities
Lifeguard training has not yet been completed (but might be done by May 4th). According to the Nassau County news release, “It’s important to note that should beaches open prior to the lifeguard training being finished, water activities such as swimming and surfing will not be permitted immediately.” Another issue is whether parents will allow their teenagers to work (some guards are 17 and 18 years old). Activities of the job put lifeguards in close physical contact with the public in emergencies, and COVID-19 concerns remain.
Change Is Constant
Would potential shifts in CDC guidelines, new state executive orders, or negative health revelations (such as a spike in local COVID-19 cases, for example), or something else unforeseen, cause second thoughts locally? Adapting to changing conditions is pretty much a constant these days during the coronavirus pandemic.
Watch Commission Meetings Online
When commission meetings are held (both County and City of Fernandina Beach), they can be watched via live stream at the county or city websites. Those who want to watch the next meetings online (or see the archives of past meetings and videos), go to the Nassau County Clerk’s website. Or visit city of Fernandina Beach website to watch city commission meetings.