FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. (WKRG) — Okaloosa Island beaches from the Waterscape Condos to Eglin AFB property down Santa Rosa Blvd. are public property.

The board of county commissioners is taking that message one step forward by declaring the nearly 2.5-mile the official Okaloosa Island Public Beach Park.

New signage will be put up along the Emerald Coast destination.

This declared county park will fall under the recently passed smoking ban approved at the Jan. 17 meeting.

Along with declaring the public beach a public beach park, the county board voted to add two park rangers to enforce new and existing policies like smoking or pets on the beach.

Currently, the public beaches are patrolled by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. The county said their staff is not, and should not be focused on patrolling for code violations.

With the tremendous increase in workload, Sheriff’s deputies and lifeguards are generally more focused on their core public safety missions: protection of life and property, which is always the higher priority.

Agenda Item

The park rangers will fall under the public safety division similar to lifeguards. Funding to create the two positions will come out of Tourism Development Department dollars the first year with operational costs coming from vendor fees and other sources in the years to come.

The commissioners also discussed possible changes to public beach procedures and permits for the upcoming tourist season.

Event Permits:

County staff said there were more than 900 weddings on Okaloosa County beaches in 2022. The county made more than $50,000 for those wedding vendor fees.

Event vendors are separated into different categories such as organized picnic vendors, photographers and photography sessions, food and beverage vendors and even large sand castle vendors.

Possible changes to the current event vendors are listed below.

Beach Chair rentals:

County staff said beach vendors setting up rental chairs on a public beach is not a uniform practice and leads to the following problems.

The staff brought up different options to help combat the issues.

  1. Creating a Broader Park and Beach Management Team.
  2. Designating the Okaloosa Island Public Beach as a County Beach Park
  3. Ensuring non-vendor public spaces are available to include prime setup spaces, east-west
    corridors along the water and the dune line, and north-south for water access.
  4. Substantially Changing the Beach Vendor (Chair/Umbrella) Revenue Model making it similar
    to all other County properties.
  5. Changing Beach (Chair/Umbrella) Vendor Management which can include
    permitting/selection, operational rules, and enforcement.

Condo owners at the meeting Tuesday spoke out against policy changes to ensure it is fair to the service condo owners provide to tourists every year.

No action on these potential changes was taken at the Jan. 17 meeting. Official ordinances up for discussion in regards to event and beach chair rental vendor changes will be brought up at a public hearing scheduled for the Feb. 21, 2023 meeting.