By Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D.
July 8, 2021
Usually I avoid our beaches on the Fourth of July weekend. Tourists and residents from near and far flock to the beach to celebrate the holiday and the traffic and parking is often horrendous. On holiday weekends Bucko and I usually stay at home to avoid the crowds.
But this time was different. Earlier in the week I took a dip in the ocean despite the red flag warnings posted. I was near a lifeguard and other people were in the water so I gave it a try. The 81 degree water temperature was perfect but the waves were in rapid succession and I soon retreated back to the safety of the sand. So, when I saw that the warning flags were only yellow (moderate risk) over the Fourth of July weekend I decided to try again. Holiday regardless, I was eager to jump in a calmer ocean.
On Saturday I rounded up a gal friend and we headed to the North Beach Access, the northernmost lifeguard stand and hopefully the furthest from any crowds. As I approached the small parking lot another car was backing out and miraculously we had a parking spot right by the access. And, when we carried our chairs to the beach we were amazed to see that there were very few people there ahead of us. I’m not sure if the prediction of a storm later in the week or the somewhat threatening clouds deterred most people but it was perfect for us—warm calm water and an overcast sky without blazing sun. In other words, for us, perfect!
On the holiday Monday Bucko and I visited Main Beach in the afternoon, also expecting large Fourth of July crowds. But the crowds weren’t there either. The parking lot wasn’t full and we were even able to park right next to the beach, with the ocean and sand visible from our car seats. Other people took advantage of the benches nearby. A youthful lifeguard was watching over the few clusters of people that were scattered around the beach, building sand castles, playing Frisbee, and bobbing in the gentle surf. The calm water was perfect for the two paddle boarders passing by.
While at Main Beach I took a look at the latest attractions near the parking lot that showcase our multi-talented community. The volunteer members of Amelia Shells have created their colored shell rendition of the American flag on a dune just beyond the parking lot. Amelia Shellers collect, paint, and hide sea shells year-round all over town and places far beyond. Each shell is labeled with the Amelia Shells info with a request for finders to post photos. It’s uplifting to see the shell flag on the beach and it’s fun to watch this Facebook site to see the happy smiles of many kids and adults that have encountered a painted shell. You can check it out for yourself at the Amelia Shells group on Facebook. And around the Christmas holidays, check out the shell Christmas tree that they also construct annually in this same location.
And, ever since early May there has been another feature near the Main Beach parking lot: Amelia the Turtle. Beach Junki Amy Wade (aka Amy Beach) has spent years roaming our beaches on her bicycle picking up marine debris and alerting others about the damage these discarded items pose to our wildlife. She and artist Sandra Baker-Hinton teamed up for a number of years to do the sea turtle patrol on Fort Clinch State Park beaches, and they concocted an idea to create a sea turtle from beach waste. The collection of stuff from Beach Junki Amy, in the creative hands of Sandra, has become Amelia the Turtle, now installed at Main Beach with signage cautioning people about marine debris. You can learn more about this effort at www.beachjunki.org.
I don’t know what happened to all the expected Fourth of July beachgoers who normally flock to the beach on holidays but maybe I was just lucky in my beach timing. These days it is getting rarer and rarer to be able to find parking near the beach on busy days, and now it seems like most days are busy. Sometimes I bemoan the increasing hubbub in our town from the exponential rise of tourist numbers and the hundreds (no, thousands!) of new homes being built in our area.
In those times, I think about moving to someplace else. But where? It takes days like this Fourth of July weekend to remind me why I love it here. As long as there are times like this still in our world, I’m here to stay…
Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]