Annually, the Walton County Clerk of Court holds a “beach permit” lottery to select 150 residents who, if they win the privilege of buying a permit and then do so within 30 days, may drive their four-wheel drive vehicle on certain areas of the beach in Walton County for a year. This is a nice perk for residents, to which the approximately 450 applications each year would seem to attest.

And although this luxury is enjoyed by the 150 families with permits each year, there is significant frustration among those not selected, especially since the beach is what drew many of those families to our area. For many residents, driving on the beach is one of the real luxuries of living here.

Understandably, the beach can have only so many cars at a time and still retain its natural beauty, but could we reexamine how we issue these permits to drive on the beach so that more residents can enjoy this privilege? The 150 people who win the permit generally make their plans weekly; very few go to the beach every day. Often they use their permit only once or twice during the month, or even during the year.

I was a lucky winner last year but used the permit to drive on the beach only five times during the year. That means that someone else could have enjoyed driving on the beach the other 360 days. Might we consider other options that expand the use to a few more? Would the county be amenable to receiving suggestions from its citizens?

Here’s one possible proposal: what if we issued twice as many permits but restricted the permit holder to driving on the beach only on “odd” or “even” calendar days? The sticker could be color-coded, with red, for instance, signaling even days (July 2, 4, 6, etc.) and blue signaling odd days (July 1, 3, 5, etc.). Each permit holder would be guaranteed a weekend day, and twice as many would enjoy this unique luxury. Plus, the permit fee could remain the same, thus doubling the fees raised by the county. The additional income could be used by the county for worthy causes, such as protecting the beaches, turtle watch and protection, beach cleanup, or even an educational program about our turtles and their habitat, etc.

This would appear to be a win-win, with more people getting to enjoy this unique luxury and more income to the county without adding more cars to the beach. There may be other ways to issue permits not yet considered. Collective minds often come up with great solutions, so what about issuing a request for proposals and challenging Walton County residents to come up with creative ideas to share the wealth of this great natural resource?

This guest column is from Brad Smith, a resident of Santa Rosa Beach.

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