Matanzas Driving Just Wasn't in Rules; the Popular Fishing and Recreation Area Will Close to Vehicles

Article excerpt

Byline: LARRY HANNAN

A popular beach in St. Johns County is being closed to vehicles at the end of this year.

The National Park Service will no longer allow cars, trucks and sport-utility vehicles on the 70 acres, or about one mile, of beach that make up Fort Matanzas National Monument, 14 miles south of St. Augustine.

The area will remain open to pedestrians, who can access the beach from the parking lot that has about 35 available spaces. The Fort Matanzas boat ramp will remain open because it is a dedicated road.

There are about 10 locations in St. Johns County where vehicles can be driven onto the beach. In Nassau County there are four; in Duval County there is only one, Huguenot Park.

The Times-Union spoke to Fort Matanzas Superintendent Gordie Wilson about why the vehicle ban is occurring.

WHY IS BEACH DRIVING BEING BANNED?

We started a management planning process about three years ago to plan for the future of the park. At that time the question was asked, did we have the authority to permit vehicles on the beach? We couldn't answer that even though vehicles have been allowed since the 1960s, when the property was donated to the National Park Service.

As we consulted with legal counsel and many stakeholders, we determined that we could no longer allow cars on the beach. We really tried to find a way to allow it, but there just isn't a realistic way to do it under current regulations. As we researched the question, we found that federal requirements do not permit vehicles to travel outside designated roads or parking lots in a national monument.

BUT IF BEACH PARKING WAS ALLOWED FOR ALL OF THESE YEARS, WHY CHANGE IT NOW? …