When I told my lovely wife, Joni, that I planned to write about beach driving this week, she suggested I move my truck from the front of our house to the back.
She was joking. Or maybe not. Beach driving is truly a third-rail issue in Volusia County.
But heated issue or not, beach driving is likely destined to become a debated issue in the county in 2021.
New County Chair Jeff Brower is a longtime beach driving advocate who recently told News-Journal reporter Mary Helen Moore that he plans to work to increase the amount of beach on which cars can be driven. Brower is closely affiliated with the group Sons of the Beach, the beach driving advocacy group whose members strongly supported his campaign for county chair. It will be surprising if beach driving doesn’t rise as an issue before the County Council.
So, I think now is a good time to ask readers to share their thoughts about beach driving with The News-Journal.
First, some disclosure of my own views on beach driving.
I’m almost entirely neutral on the subject. I don’t mind people driving on the beach. I’m also OK with people not driving on the beach. I can see how it might help the local economy, and I can see how it might hurt the economy.
When I moved to Daytona Beach nearly 11 years ago, one of the first things I did was take my truck down to the beach for a little drive. I drove onto the beach at the Harvard Avenue approach, and then drove south all the way to the beach exit by the Plaza Hotel, a distance of about 2 1/2 miles.
I’d never driven on a beach until then. My recollection is that the drive was fun, but by the end of it the novelty had worn off. I think that since then, I’ve driven on the beach one other time, for about 30 yards before parking.
I do go to the beach, and quite often this time of year. When it’s low tide, and the wind is down, there is no better place to go for a run or a walk than on the hard-packed sandy beaches of Volusia County. I just don’t drive onto the beach to do that. That’s not a political statement; it’s merely a personal preference.
But clearly a lot of people like to drive on the 16 of 47 miles of county beach where driving is allowed or possible. Most of that driving is to find a place to park, but clearly that is important to many county residents, and also to many visitors from Orlando and other parts of the Florida. Many beach goers love the convenience of parking on the beach, which makes it easier for them to haul chairs and beach toys and coolers.
Beach driving is — for many people — also a matter of cultural heritage. Volusia County’s beach is where world speed records were set in the early 20th century. The beach is where Big Bill France competed in and later organized auto races that he developed into something called NASCAR. The beach is where people drove and parked for decades, day and night. It’s a part of the area’s romantic past.
Still, everything evolves.
Most of the restrictions on beach driving are a result of a federal edict to protect the environment. For example, sea turtles also use the beach to lay their eggs, and moving cars aren’t necessarily good for turtles. The current federal rules under which beach driving is allowed will be reexamined in 2030, and no one knows what will happen then.
There also is the economic debate. Some argue that Daytona Beach’s core beach side area went down the tubes when beach driving was curtailed. Others argue that continuing beach driving is one of the main reasons why our beachfront is arguably the least-developed on the East Coast.
All of which leads to the question I would like readers to answer: What do you think about beach driving?
A few loud voices tend to dominate discussion about beach driving. I hope to hear from those people, but I also want to hear from a cross section of other people who have ideas worth sharing.
Think about that question, and then send me an email with your thoughts. It would be especially helpful if you address the issues of cultural heritage and economics. Also, include your name and a phone number. My email is email@example.com.
We’ll use your comments as grist for future stories and columns examining the issue of beach driving. Thanks in advance for your help!