Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson instructs his deputies not to make trespassing arrests on those beachgoers for "routine activities."
WALTON COUNTY — Restaurateur and citizen advocate Dave Rauschkolb believes as many as 100 people could join him Sunday when he takes an 11-mile walk along Walton County beaches to defend the idea that the stretches of sugar-white sand belong to everyone.
The Stand Your Sand walk will step off on the same day Walton County coastal property owners are legally able to place signs on the beach warning visitors against trespassing.
“We’re going to take a walk on the beach," Rauschkolb said. "It’s something people have done since humans have walked the earth, and it’s something people have enjoyed since humans walked the earth.”
And as long as the walkers conduct themselves peacefully, they won't face the possibility of arrest on trespassing charges, Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson said in a video posted this week on YouTube.
Citing the opinion of the State's Attorney's Office that it would be extremely difficult to successfully prosecute a trespassing charge under the new law, Adkinson has directed his deputies not to make any trespassing arrests of people who are peacefully walking along or sitting on the beach.
"I cannot, in good faith, instruct deputy sheriffs to make an arrest for trespassing after warning, when I know that it cannot be prosecuted," Adkinson said. "As such, I am directing my deputies not to make arrests for trespass after warning for routine activities such as walking, sitting or transversing the beach."
But, Adkinson said, any conduct beyond peaceful use of private beach property could subject a person to other charges.
"If your conduct on private property, or while crossing private property, disturbs the peace in a manner that is designed to cause conflict, in a manner that is designed to cause turmoil, we will address that, and there are other avenues besides trespassing to do that," the sheriff says in the video, which was also posted on his Facebook page on Friday afternoon.
State legislation passed this year voids a Walton County customary use ordinance passed in 2016 based on the concept that beach areas have been publicly shared for centuries and should therefore remain open to the public.
The law, according to the South Florida lawmakers who sponsored it, is an attempt to prevent local governments from taking private property from its owners.
Walton County is the only county in the state impacted by the bill that becomes law July 1. The legislation does give the county a legal means to re-establish an ordinance similar to the one passed in 2016, but to do so will require public hearings and court challenges.
In the meantime, no one really knows for sure what changes the new law will bring to the sugar-white sands of South Walton. Many have expressed fears of signage dotting the county's 26 miles of beach for as far as the eye can see.
The Board of County Commissioners has been debating how best to regulate newly legalized beach signage warning trespassers away from private coastal property and the Sheriff’s Office has been strategizing about how to best mediate widely anticipated conflicts between homeowners and beachgoers.
Commissioners voted at their most recent meeting to codify how homeowners will display signs marking their property lines. After much debate and a couple of failed votes, it was agreed that owners who desire to post signs must remove those closest to the water each night.
The decision was made after some debate of the impact permanent signs could have on the ability of endangered sea turtles to access the beaches to lay their eggs.
Rauschkolb said his Sunday walk is not intended to stir up problems or point up issues with county commission regulations or Sheriff’s Office policies.
In his video, Sheriff Adkinson also moves to provide some measure of reassurance to private property owners with regard to his decision to prohibit deputies from making trespassing arrests.
"Nothing about this action takes away any of the private property owners' ability to exercise their right of private property up to and including any remedy provided under Florida law," Adkinson said, "and we will help support that route."
The walk is slated to get underway at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, with groups leaving from Camp Helen State Park and Topsail Hill State Park with a goal of reaching Grayton Beach State Park by mid-afternoon. Rauschkolb said he intends to trek the entire 11 miles between the beaches at Camp Helen and Grayton.
This is the event host’s second year of sponsoring the walk.
“I loved my walk last year,” he said. “It’s fascinating to see South Walton from that perspective.”
"Ultimately, we all have to work together," Adkinson said in his video. "This is a county that, at the end of the day, the citizens that want to come to use the public beaches and the private property owners who are entitled to the reasonable use and enjoyment of their property have to learn to get along. We have to learn to be good neighbors. I'm optimistic that we can do that."