Bathtub Beach reopens

STUART — Bathtub Beach reopened Saturday with a little more meat on its bones following a renourishment project that closed the severely eroded beach for five days. County officials, though, still discourage swimming.

"Use it at your own risk," said county engineer Don Donaldson.

The once popular family beach has been unguarded since early December because too little beach was left to accommodate a lifeguard tower.

"By the next morning, it would have been washed away," said Dan Harshburger, Martin County's bureau chief of rescue.

Shallow stumps and roots exposed by erosion have added to the danger.

Still, Harshburger expects warm weather and spring break to draw more families to Bathtub Beach in the coming weeks. A shallow reef that creates a warm, calm bathing area has always made Bathtub a favorite of families with young children. Harshburger hopes the new sand will enable him to station lifeguards in a tower early as this Monday and no later than March 12.

"I'd like to get (Bathtub Beach) staffed by next week," he said, "if we can figure out how to get a lifeguard tower out there."

The 1,500 cubic yards of sand added to the beach this week was an unexpected gift from neighboring Sailfish Point. The development dredged the sand from the Indian River Lagoon to deepen a channel for resident boaters. County workers had to truck it just a short distance to Bathtub Beach.

It was the beach's second renourishment in three months. County engineers in December brought in 800 cubic yards of sand to fill in beach lost to fall storms. That project closed the beach for more than a week.

The fall storms were the latest in a series that have devastated the Hutchinson Island beach in the past few years.

"From Bathtub Beach to the Sailfish Point clubhouse, about 20,000 cubic yards a year have been lost over the past five years or so," Donaldson said.

He expects sand from the two recent projects to protect the beach through at least one winter storm. Beyond that, the beach's fate is anyone's guess. While winter northeasters typically pull sand from the beach, hurricanes normally bring it back. An abundance of sand from Bathtub Beach washed over the dune onto MacArthur Boulevard following the back-to-back 2004 hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.

"Bathtub Beach has experienced erosion in the past," Donaldson said, " and there have also been periods of accretion, where sand builds up."

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