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'Private beach, no trespassing' markers anger beachgoers on Palm Beach

Former Palm Beach Post reporter calls it an 'us versus them' mentality
Private beach sign, no trespassing on Palm Beach
Posted at 3:13 PM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 17:40:35-05

PALM BEACH, Fla. — The struggle over beach access is once again playing out on the island of Palm Beach.

Beachgoers and property owners are at odds over who can take in the breathtaking views.

There is a public access area on Sunset Beach, which has private property on both sides. However, the public can still be on the beach and can walk along the shore.

But lately, poles put up by property owners are labeled stating "private beach" and "no trespassing."

Private beach markers on Palm Beach, Jan. 18, 2022
Markers claim an area of Palm Beach is "private" to beachgoers.

It's received attention on social media lately.

Under Florida law, there is public access to the beach even in front of private property, as long as the public stays between the waterline and the erosion control line, an area generally near high tide.

Former Palm Beach Post reporter Christine Stapleton posted about it on Instagram, saying she often gets harassed by some homeowners. She likes to walk along the shore just north of the Breakers.

"They insisted that this is their property, and it's an 'us versus them' and because Palm Beach is so wealthy it has become a class controversy, which is unfortunate," Stapleton said. "It's always been that way but is getting much worse because so many people are here now."

One main reason the public can come along the shoreline is the state pays for a lot of beach restoration and that line is considered state property.

"It's gotten where it is encroaching on public beach," Stapleton said referring to the poles.

The poles and their message, Stapleton believes, are being placed by property owners too close to the waterline, squeezing out beachgoers.

"I don't think private landowners should wake up in the morning, look at the beach and say, 'I think there's erosion. I'm going to put up posts that I made all the way down into the water,'" Stapleton said.

Christine Stapleton, discusses private beach sign posted on Palm Beach
Christine Stapleton discusses the private beach signs posted on Palm Beach.

Palm Beach's website states, under Florida law, the public has a right to reasonable access to the beach.

Town Manager Kirk Blouin said the poles were put up by property owners and need to conform to the erosion control line, which is typically set up by the state.

Blouin said beachgoers who wander onto private property are given a warning by police.

"My understanding, along the beach, is public access, anybody can walk along the beach," said Mitch Kauffman, who was visiting from New York.

However, Stapleton said something needs to be worked out between property owners and people who want to enjoy the beach.

"The posts are intimidating. They say, 'You're really not welcome here,'" Stapleton said. "My feeling is let's get together and make this work."