Locals face tough choice when it comes to continuing Florida beach tradition

Some cancel plans while others vow to visit beach no matter what

Michelle Stuckey
July 02, 2010 at 9:37 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Hayes Montgomery, 21 months old, plays in the sand at Pensacola Beach in mid-June. He is the grandson of Don and Ann Montgomery of Destrehan.
Courtesy Photo
Hayes Montgomery, 21 months old, plays in the sand at Pensacola Beach in mid-June. He is the grandson of Don and Ann Montgomery of Destrehan.
Now that oil has finally washed ashore on some of northwest Florida’s pristine beaches, St. Charles Parish residents are having to reconsider their annual summer trips to the coast.

While some say that the beach is only a small part of their coastal trip, others have cancelled their trip altogether because they do not want to risk the health hazards of being near the oil.

Ann Montgomery, a Destrehan resident, said that her family took their annual beach trip to Pensacola Beach in mid-June just days before the oil hit land there, but there was still an ominous air to the usually laid-back community.

“The only hint of oil or that there was a problem were the Hazmat people who were on the beach early every morning,” said Montgomery, whose family stayed in condos during their trip. “There were no crowds…I saw no one on our floor the entire seven days we were there…not one person was to be seen.”

While Montgomery said the seclusion made her family’s trip even better than usual, she feared for the area’s economy.
“People must be canceling left and right because this is those places’ peak time and we saw so few people around. The pools were empty, the beach was empty,” she said.

Buck Lee, executive director of the Santa Rosa Island Authority, said that while traffic over the toll bridge to Pensacola Beach has dropped, most hotels have not lost much business yet.

“I think maybe the people locally that are driving in daily aren’t coming as much,” he said. He added that the “beautiful, white sand beach” has never been closed and that hotels reported that only about 20 percent of their guests go into the gulf regularly, with most enjoying other aspects of beach life such as the pool, volleyball or shopping and dining.

“We all hate to see the oil come onto the shore, but you can still enjoy the beach,” Lee said.

Earl Matherne, a resident of Des Allemands, said that his family canceled their usual vacation to Destin.

“Our vacation is very beach-central,” said Matherne, who has a 10-year-old daughter. “With the impending oil on the beach and the health warnings about swimming, we just couldn’t take the chance.

“It’s very sad and hopefully next year we’ll be able to get back into our routine.”

Sandy Zimmer, a Luling resident, said that her family is taking a “wait and see” approach to their trip to Pensacola Beach this July.

“We really don’t want to cancel because we know that their economy is suffering from the oil spill. We haven’t forgotten Katrina and the aftermath,” Zimmer said. “I just hope by the end of July, the beaches are clean and the spill is contained.”

Zimmer said her party of 16 people is still booked to go, but that increased health warnings or word of horrible oil fumes could cause them to cancel.

“We’re really trying to keep the plans,” she said.

For other parishioners, the oil will not be enough to keep them away from Florida beaches this summer.

Albert Dupont, who works at the Satellite Center in Luling, said that his family will still head to Perdido Key despite the oil.

“We’ve been going for the last 10 years as a family vacation. The beach is only a small part of it, but there are a lot of other things to do around there,” Dupont said.

Lucas Henderson, who works for the parish, said he will also keep his plans regardless of the oil situation.

“People tell me that it’s obviously not ideal conditions, but it’s still nice enough,” Henderson said of Pensacola Beach. “Pensacola Beach is a great place. There’s all kind of things to do within walking distance of hotels and condos.”

His friends in Pensacola have told him that the clean-up efforts are going smoothly.

“They seem to be able to get the oil off of the beach when it comes on shore…they seem to be doing a pretty good job of keeping it clean,” he said.

Chris Duhe, 18, is visiting Destin with a group of recent Destrehan High School graduates and said the oil will not be a problem for him.

“I’m not too much of a beach person anyway, I just want to go to the water park,” Duhe said.

Many hotels on Pensacola Beach, Fort Walton Beach and Destin are offering special rates and discounts to try to entice tourists to the area.

To find out more information and deals on Pensacola Beach, visit www.visitpensacolabeach.com. For more information and deals on Fort Walton Beach and in Destin, visit www.destin-fwb.com.

View other articles written Michelle Stuckey

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