WALTON COUNTY — A local group is working to create harmony on the beach.
Starting July 6, the Walton County Tourist Development Council will implement a new managed vendor program at regional beach accesses at Inlet and Ed Walline beaches.
Brian Kellenberger, director of beach operations for the TDC, said the group hoped to eliminate ghost chairs, sets of chairs with no occupants, to maintain open areas on public beaches.
"I think it will make Walton County a much better place," Kellenberger said. "I think our public beach accesses will become more harmonious for all the people that visit."
The program was designed to correct past vending issues, he said, including complaints from some residents concerned vendors were controlling the beach.
In 2015, the TDC created vendor zones, limiting the vendors' access to specific portions of the beach, while the public retained access to all public portions.
It started as a single-sourced contract, he said, meaning one vendor had exclusive rights to an area. However, the program, which never caught on, excluded vendors that weren't contracted.
Kellenberger said that after studying how neighboring areas and resort communities in Walton ran their beaches, the TDC introduced a co-opt component. This allowed other vendors to use the beach with the managed vendor program, under the TDC's umbrella contract with the South Walton Beach Service Association.
"It's kind of like a subcontract agreement," Kellenberger said. "We have a master contract with them and it has very specific performance requirements, and then, any vendor that wants to participate ... they enter into a service agreement with South Walton Beach Service Association that has terms and conditions that they're going to operate under the master contract."
Depending on how the first year goes, he expected to expand the program to seven other regional beach accesses in Walton.
The only access not in discussion, at Miramar Beach, was donated to the county by a family under an agreement they would retain exclusive vending rights, he said.
Vendors under the program will only offer chairs and umbrellas. Kellenberger added this could change in the future to include amenities such as paddle boards and kayaks.
For those who like to arrive at the beach early to claim a section of chairs for their group, chairs will only be distributed once people arrive, and then collected when they leave, he said.
Shaun Streeter, spokesman for the TDC, was in agreement that the program was "a step in the right direction."
Streeter added their efforts were for locals and tourists alike.
"We're doing things to try and help make a positive experience for everybody on the beach," he said.