VENICE BEACH — Dozens of people took advantage of the loosening of restrictions on Venice Beach on Monday and Tuesday.
Sarasota County Board of Commissioner unanimously agreed last week to allow limited access to the county’s public beaches beginning at 6 a.m. Monday.
“I don’t expect to see a drum circle,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said last week.
At Venice Beach, it didn’t take long for the word to get out. A steady flow of beachgoers came to the beach all day long, albeit respecting social distancing rules.
The beaches had been closed since March 21 as a way to attempt to fight back against COVID-19. That last night, hundreds watched the sunset from Venice-area beaches and the Venice Jetty.
For now, the Venice Jetty remains closed.
On Tuesday, Zhanna Zakhron drove up to Venice from Naples with her four children ages 9 months to 6 years to enjoy the beach.
“It’s so tiring to be stuck in the house all that time with the kids. It’s great the beach is open,” she said.
Gerry Hoffman and his wife said they look forward to the reopening of all the beaches — and without any restrictions.
“People are separating on the beach,” Gerry Hoffman said referring to the need for social separation on the sands. “There’s a lot of open space. They don’t go there to sit next to each other.”
Darrell Richardson sat sunning Tuesday near by the Graser Park parking lot fountain in Venice, his favorite spot featuring a dolphin sculpture water fountain.
“I come here all the time,” he said. “I wish they’get get on with reopening other places, like the gymnasiums and barber shops. I need a hair cut. Yesterday (the first day the beach reopened) you should have seen it. There were 10-times as many people.”
While the decision to reopen Venice Beach was applauded by beachgoers, some parks remain closed, including the South Jetty (Humphris Park), the Venice Fishing Pier, the Brohard Beach Paw Park and the city’s playgrounds and tennis courts.
Service Club Park and Maxine Barritt Park was open to pedestrians and bikes, but parking is closed there and at the other city beaches.
The list of Sarasota County beaches reopening includes Blind Pass Beach and Manasota Beach on Manasota Key; Caspersen Beach; the North Jetty and Nokomis Beach on Casey Key; and Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota.
Sarasota County posted signs on State Road 776 and on the key, reminding motorists that its public beach parking lots remained closed for Manasota and Blind Pass.
Sarasota County also specified that beachgoers were restricted from sitting on blankets or chairs, and were not allowed to have coolers.
They were allowed to walk, fish, surf or jog, but not linger.
Keeping parking lots closed may have been for the best at Blind Pass Beach, which remained empty most of the day, except for a few people walking along the surf.
At Manasota Beach, a sheriff’s deputy in an unmarked vehicle and with a megaphone chased away motorists who attempted to park illegally along the rights of way or at the entrances to the blockaded parking lots.
But where there is a will, there was a way.
People bicycled to the public beach or parked their vehicles on the mainland side of the Manasota Beach Road and walked or rode across the bridge to the beach. About 20 vehicles were parked alongside the road.
The Stump Pass State Park Beach, at the southern tip of Manasota Key and part of the Florida State Park system, remained closed Monday “until further notice,” a sign on the gate read.
Lido Beach in the city of Sarasota will remain closed.
Charlotte County Commissioners decided to open Englewood Beach and Port Charlotte Beach without limitations. Parking lots will be open, but parking meters will not be functioning.
Florida’s state parks, including beaches such as Stump Pass Beach State Park on Manasota Key and Gasparilla Island State Park at Boca Grande, have not been reopened.