Armado Mendoza has his finger on the pulse of Marco Island’s beach scene. He is in charge of the beach concession in front of Marriott’s Crystal Shores resort, right next to the Winterberry Drive public beach access.
Mendoza reported to work 40 minutes before sunrise on July 4th.
“I’ve been here since 6 AM,” Mendoza remarked, “at that time I was already seeing people getting set up—that early.”
Mendoza works for Marco Island Water Sports, who operates several locations along Marco Beach. He’s been on the job a long time and pays attention to what’s happening along Marco’s 3.5-mile crescent beach. This summer has been busier than usual. Perhaps because of COVID-19, the beach has been busier than usual this June. Even the 4th of July weekend, with beach restrictions in effect and the annual fireworks show canceled, has been busy.
“To be a 4th of July with the restrictions they’re trying to enforce,” Mendoza said, “I’m still seeing a lot of people out here. We’re busier than usual. Definitely busier. I think that everybody has been so bottled up at home that now that businesses are opening up it’s definitely showing that people are just looking to get out of the house.”
Over the July 4th weekend, Mendoza is seeing a lot of the beach traffic from the east coast of Florida.
“It’s definitely people from Miami,” he said. “Most locals, all you see them doing is walking in the morning. Everything that you see right now, the tents and umbrellas, it’s definitely people from the east coast. People just visiting for the day.”
The beach access at Winterberry Drive has a sign that reads No Beach Access between 11 AM and 5 PM. Mendoza has noticed a flurry of activity at the Winterberry Road access point just before 11 AM.
“People are definitely trying to beat the curfew,” he’s noticed. “With the signs that they have all over the place saying the beach is closed from 11 AM to 5 PM, people know that after 11 they’re not going to be able to get on the beach.”
Mendoza said the weekend has been pretty trouble–free as of lunchtime on July 4th. He’s noticed a strong police presence at the beach.
“Our law enforcement has been very visible,” he pointed out. “They’ve definitely got their hands full this weekend. We have seen a lot more cops than usual the last couple of days.”
Officer Paul Ashby of the Marco Island Police Department was patrolling the beach Saturday morning. He seemed happy with what he was seeing.
“So far things are going good,” Ashby reported. “We’ve had a few glass violations on the beach, a few bicycles, but other than that, everything’s been good.”
Ashby thinks the signs are stopping most people from accessing the beach when they’re not supposed to.
“For the most part,” he acknowledged. “They still have access through the Marriott and the Hilton. If they’re staying at a beachfront condo, they can come down. It’s been pretty good.”
While a sign was posted at 11 AM at the Winterberry Road beach access, there was no one stopping people from entering the pathway to the beach.
“All they’re doing is putting a barricade at the end of the boardwalk,” stated Mendoza. “People are going around still. People can easily walk around it. Yesterday was Day 1, and right after 11 AM, we didn’t see anybody coming down the boardwalk. Coming on the island, I saw the sign they put up that basically said beaches are closed at 11 AM. They’re advertising it as closed but it really isn’t. If they get on the beach before 11 AM they can stay all day. Most people don’t know that. I actually had about five or six people ask me about that this morning. One guy asked me, ‘Beach closes at 11, right?’ I said, ‘I really don’t know.’ I just had another lady ask me. I said, ‘From what we experienced yesterday, if you get on before 11, you can stay.’”
Ashby acknowledged that visitors to the beach who arrive prior to 11 AM are not being asked to leave the beach.
“As long as they get down here before 11 AM, they can stay here all day,” Ashby said. “The beach isn’t closed—it’s open. So everybody can come out here, but they don’t have any parking.”