State of the Beach/Methodology/Beach Access
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Beach access is arguably the most important beach health indicator in determining the number of people who can enjoy beaches. The report uses the following criteria to evaluate the quantity and quality of state beach access:
Laws governing public ownership of the beach vary widely from state to state. In Maine and Massachusetts, for example, private ownership extends to the Mean Low Water line. In California, Oregon, and Texas public ownership extends to the Mean High Water Line. All beaches in Hawaii are publicly owned. These differences significantly impact access to and along the beach.
Percent of Publicly Owned Coastline
This statistic indicates the amount of coastal land owned by the local, state, or federal government out of all of the state's coastal land. In some instances, this statistic can be deceiving. For example, a state that has many small street-end access points or trails to the beach may have excellent beach access despite having a small percentage of publicly owned land.
In many places beach access differs greatly depending on the season. This is due to enforcement of laws, the amount of available parking, and other factors that often restrict public access during the summer season. Due to the complexity of data associated with seasonal changes in access this is a factor that we did not always include in our assessment. However we do include a summary of state beach access policies.
Miles Between Access Points
This statistic gives the average number of miles between access points. This figure gives a rough idea of public access availability, but it can conceal certain areas with poor access. A few towns with a high number of access points can make up for areas with little or no access, and on average the state will appear to have a fair amount of access.
We have included information on state land acquisition programs where available. Specific indicators we looked for in this area include the total annual expenditure on coastal land acquisition, the total number of acres of coastal open space acquired, and the number of newly created access sites.
Types of Access
To assess the quality of public access, the report breaks down the amount of public access by the types of access provided and the amenities offered at access points, where this information was available. The report identifies the following different types of access points:
- Public Parks - Public parks tend to provide the highest quality public access. They usually have large parking areas, restrooms, and a lot of land and opportunities to access the beach. Because of these conveniences, parks usually provide the best access for traveling visitors. However, many parks charge entrance and/or parking fees, which can discourage people from using them as an access point.
- Street-end - These access points are generally a trail or staircase down to the beach located at the end of a street in a local neighborhood. The parking at these access points is generally limited and sometimes totally restricted. For these reasons, street-end access points tend to be more convenient for local beach access than for visitors.
- Walkways - Many areas have walkways or boardwalks that run parallel to the beach and have staircases that lead down to the beach. These access points generally provide high quality access to a large portion of beach, but like street-ends, they are limited by the amount of nearby parking and public facilities like bathrooms. Walkways often have the additional benefit of providing habitat protection for dunes, wetlands and other sensitive habitats.
Supply and Demand
Where available, we have included information that is an indicator of the availability of public access. Specifically this includes:
- Beach attendance records - this is a measure that, via identification of changes and patterns of use, establishes access needs.
- Economic evaluation of beaches - this is a measure of the value, typically monetary, associated with the coastal recreational uses and activities that support these uses in coastal communities.
- Perception of supply and demand - typically based on surveys, this is a measure of the users' perceptions of the quantity and quality of beach access. It provides a comparison to the quantitative information reflected in the other indicators.
Public Education Program
We have included a summary of state efforts to provide information to the public about beach access and access opportunities. This may include Web-based interactive access inventories, as well as brochures and posters.
Threshold criteria for the beach access indicator is:
- 7 to 10 - Accurate up to date and preferably online inventory of beach access sites that includes detailed information on the access location, type, and associated amenities such as parking, restrooms, and handicap access
- 4 to 6 - An online but limited inventory of access sites (typically these are state parks inventories)
- 1 to 3 - Little to no information on the location and types of beach access
- 7 to 10 - Access sites located at least once every two miles on average along the coas
- 4 to 6 - Access sites located at somewhere between once every two and once every ten miles on average along the coast
- 1 to 3 - Access sites located at most once every ten miles on average along the coastline
Other factors such as state policies, the percent of publicly-owned coastline, commitment to land acquisition, and public education programs were also taken into account in determining the rankings. For example, if a state had a relatively high number of beach access points, but a policy that severely limits public ownership it was likely have been reduced in rank.