DESTIN – A state plan launched in 2014 to allow commercial vendors to ply their wares at Henderson Beach State Park was greeted with enthusiasm by several deep-pocketed local entrepreneurs.

It proved so unpopular among some local residents, though, that local lawmakers helped pass a law to prevent it from happening.

Yet today, beach setups, a pair of chairs and an umbrella, can be rented at Henderson Beach for $40 a day or $25 for half a day. Park visitors also can purchase sunglasses, snacks, towels and flotation devices without having to leave the grounds.

The group providing these services is Friends of Emerald Coast State Parks, a nonprofit organization that has striven since 1999 to keep the Henderson Beach clean and visitors safe and happy.

All money raised through the sales and rentals go to park resource management and programs, and to pay the salaries of those hired by the nonprofit to man the concessions, according to park staff and a sign posted inside the gift shop.

But some people have questioned the presence of what they perceive as vendor activity.

“To the best of my knowledge ... no vendors are allowed to contract and rent out equipment on their property. Some sort of shady deal must have been struck between the two, or I am unaware of a new law allowing this?” resident Michael Hall asked in an email.

Chris Hawthorne, the park manager for both Henderson Beach and Niceville’s Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park, said the Park Service and Friends of Emerald Coast State Parks are perfectly within their rights to do what they are doing.

“All the law precludes is a concession agreement. We are not authorizing any concessions,” Hawthorne said. “We can have a concession if a similar service is not provided within 1,500 feet of the park.”

The park’s agreement with Friends of Emerald Coast State Parks is that of “a partner with the state,” Hawthorne said. The two have not entered any form of concession agreement and the two mobile units from which beach accessories and snacks are sold are authorized in the park’s management plan.

“We are not authorizing any concessions. We have not entered into an agreement with anyone,” Hawthorne said.

Former state Senate President Don Gaetz, a sponsor of the legislation to keep concessions out of the park, had nothing but praise for Friends of Emerald Coast State Parks, but he wasn’t convinced the organization’s offering of rentals and items for sale didn’t violate the spirit of the law he helped pass.

“I don’t recall there being a carve-out in that law for good, well meaning nonprofit organizations. I think it was a pretty straightforward piece of legislation,” Gaetz said. “We may be sliding down a slippery slope of sand.”

The problem, from Gaetz’s perspective, would be if “a concessionaire decided to permit commercial concessions and offered the same logic as that the nonprofit espouses to justify its chair rentals.”

“Maybe there needs to be some limited concession flexibility if this is what’s called for,” he said.

The law referred to was co-sponsored by former state representative and Congressman Matt Gaetz. It forbade the state’s Division of Recreation and Parks from granting new concession agreements “for the accommodation of visitors” in two of Florida’s state parks “if the type of concession is available within 1,500 of the park’s boundaries.”

Father and son Gaetz added the provision to an existing bill in 2014 when constituents approached them to complain that outside vendors had been allowed to contest for commercial vending permits at Henderson Beach.

Hawthorne said the idea of Friends of Emerald Coast State Parks teaming up with park management to offer chairs for rent was born two years ago.

“The whole reason we started this whole operation was due to demand from our guests,” he said. “We had requests from our guests. They wanted it so they didn’t have to bring chairs.”

He said the nonprofit’s governing board had heard the horror stories about beach chair vendors lining rentals across the coast line and preventing those bringing their own equipment to the beach from finding a decent place to set up for the day.

“When I first brought the idea to the board, they said no,” Hawthorne said. “I told them we wanted to be the model for how public beach service should be provided. I won them over.”

The beach setups at Henderson Beach are 50 feet apart, which gives those who don’t rent chairs plenty of room to establish their own camp sites. Friends of Emerald Coast State Parks employees not only set up the nonprofit beach set sites, but are there to assist other beachgoers with setting up their own tents or umbrellas.

Last year, the park, which encompasses a little over a mile of beach, had 20 chairs to rent. This year it has 40, Hawthorne said.

On a typical day, crews will set up 20 chairs on each side of its two day-use areas. Chairs will even be brought to campers at their campsites if requested.

“We didn’t want anyone to feel excluded,” Hawthorne said.

He said Henderson Beach’s cooperation with the Friends of Emerald Coast State Parks and the decision to provide chair rentals has helped the park and Okaloosa County in four ways.

It creates job, helps the county by eliminating waste — the chairs are reused, unlike cheap beach furniture bought at souvenir shops — it gives the Park Service additional eyes and ears on the beach and provides a service that had been requested for years.

“We created it to be a model for other public beaches,” Hawthorne said. “I feel very strongly we’ve accomplished that.”