The boardwalk and public parking along Scenic Gulf Drive in Miramar Beach, between the Whale’s Tail and the Beach Bar, have become a de facto beach in the wake of the closing of all 26 miles of Walton County’s Gulf of Mexico beaches.
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MIRAMAR BEACH — Aaah, the beach — the feel of engineered wood under your toes, cars whizzing by less than a couple dozen feet away, and the inviting waters of the Gulf of Mexico just a few hundred yards to the south, although they might as well be a million miles away.
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For now, anyway, as Walton County’s 26 miles of public and private stretches of blindingly white sand remain closed as a local public health measure against the new coronavirus, going to the beach just ain’t what it used to be.
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And, as the county’s public beach accesses have been closed to vehicular traffic, even finding a stretch of beach to enjoy from afar has become a challenge.
That’s a big part of the reason why the half-mile stretch of wooden boardwalk on Scenic Gulf Drive, just atop the dunes between The Whale’s Tail and the Beach Bar — with its long stretch of immediately adjacent parking spaces — has become the de facto beach for a considerable number of people each day.
“I’d rather be on the beach,” confessed Lori Ball, spending part of Tuesday morning on the boardwalk with her husband, Bradley. But, she quickly added, as the effort to halt coronavirus continues, “it’s still not time” to reopen the beaches.
The couple moved to Santa Rosa Beach about a year ago, and until the county’s local state of emergency closed the beaches last month, they made time for a weekly trip to the beach.
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Since the beaches were closed, they’ve spent some time driving around looking for spots where they can enjoy the beach — albeit from afar — maybe while enjoying a meal in their car.
“There’s a little spot at Grayton Beach,” Bradley Ball said, his voice trailing off to indicate that beach views aren’t all that plentiful as beach accesses have closed to vehicles.
The couple already knew about the Scenic Gulf Drive boardwalk, and according to Bradley Ball, at least having a view of the beach is “worth the 30-minute drive” from Santa Rosa Beach.
Also on the boardwalk Tuesday morning were Rachael Tibesar and her children — Anthony, 11; Mattie, 8, and Daniel, 2.
“It’s kinda sad,” Rachael Tibesar said as she and her children looked across the empty beach and into the Gulf of Mexico.
“I feel sad about it,” Tibesar continued. She would, she said, like to see the beaches reopened, at least for the limited purpose of allowing people to exercise with a walk along the sand.
The Tibesars, from Arizona, decided a few months ago to try life on the road in a recreational vehicle. Now staying at an RV park in Freeport, they’ve been in the area since January. Initially, they were staying closer to the beach, and going there was a part of their routine.
“We literally went almost every day,” Tibesar said
Asked if they missed their beach time, the three children, back at the beach — or close to it, anyway — for the first time since it was closed down, shook their heads “yes” as they looked across the sand.
The boardwalk, always a popular spot for catching the sunset, appears to have become even more popular for that purpose since the nearby beach accesses have been closed. In the evenings these days, the parking spots along the boardwalk are filled with vehicles as the sun descends into the western sky.
Here and there, families huddle around the open rear doors of the SUVs, enjoying pizza or other take-out fare as twilight descends.
Elsewhere, couples young and old do the same, sometimes sitting up chairs on the boardwalk or in empty parking spaces, and sometimes discreetly enjoying an adult beverage.
On Monday evening, locals Lee McDaniel and Laura Lawrence were enjoying the sunset, and missing the actual beach.
“Totally,” Lawrence said when asked if she missed the regular beach sunset routine, which might include watching the sun fade from some local hangout, now closed except for take-out as a result of coronavirus-related restrictions.
“I think with the sunset, it’s the social aspect,” she said, explaining that she misses the experience she had long shared with friends.
“Not to mention being able to have a sunset dinner,” said McDaniel.
A few parking spots away on Scenic Gulf Drive, Tom Kenemore and Cheri Meeks, who met in Destin a little more than three years ago, and have since been traveling the country in their recreational vehicle, found themselves back on familiar ground after coronavirus-related restrictions wreaked havoc with a series of reservations they’d had at state parks along the coast.
Now ensconced at a local private RV resort, they sat Monday in the back of their pickup truck, enjoying the Scenic Gulf Drive sunset for the first time in a while.
“I certainly miss the beach,” Meeks said, before rattling off some of the other places in Florida — Key West, Miami, Naples — where she’s watched the sun drop beyond the western horizon.
“Still,” she said, “this is my favorite.”