Crescent Beach gears up for a teen invasion
Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 10:52 p.m.
CRESCENT BEACH - Last week in south St. Johns County, a swirling wind blew in off the Atlantic Ocean as sideways sheets of rain pelted a sparsely populated stretch of beach.
On this gray, miserable morning, a public parking lot at Crescent Beach was nearly empty, except for a few senior citizens headed to an early lunch at a seafood restaurant.
What a difference a week will make.
Starting this weekend, throngs of teenagers will pack the beach and nearby condominiums and beach houses. It's all part of Alachua County's annual trek east for spring break.
The tradition dates back at least 30 years. School Board Chairwoman Tina Pinkoson, who graduated from Buchholz High in 1980, remembered her family renting a condominium here every year.
Crescent Beach business owners and law officers are gearing up for the teenagers who will make the roughly 70-mile trip.
Joan Galasso, owner of the Matanzas Inlet Restaurant, a short drive south of Crescent Beach on A1A, said tourists driving from Alachua, Putnam, Clay and Duval counties make up half her clientele.
Like other merchants interviewed for this story, Galasso said the economic downturn isn't stopping that type of tourism. In fact, the recession may even be giving business a boost: After all, a two-hour car ride - even with gas prices creeping back over $2 a gallon - is a far less expensive getaway option than flying to some exotic locale like Cancun.
"This is really Gainesville's beach in a way and we're fine with that," said Shannon Lake, general manager of the oceanfront Beacher's Lodge hotel. "Alachua County spring break is one of our best times. We're already starting to fill up some rooms."
With the economy struggling, plenty of businesses across the country could use an infusion of customers. Those in Crescent Beach are no different. "For sale" and rental signs line A1A.
Across the street from the beach, almost half the storefronts in Crescent Beach Plaza stood vacant last week. Tony's Pizza is one of the survivors. For 24 years, Youssef Filat has owned and operated the shop, where spring break crowds and weekend visitors from Putnam and Alachua counties keep business going.
"We get the same people every year," Filat said. "Eighty percent are the same faces. You know who they are."
Jacob Hamilton, manager of the Surf Station, a beachside surfing and bathing suit shop, said the arrival of spring breakers from Gainesville - starting with University of Florida students and continuing with the high school crowd - signals the start of the business' busy season.
Hamilton said Crescent Beach's position as the closest beach to Gainesville and its "mellow" atmosphere in comparison with the more commercial St. Augustine Beach make it the spring break destination for Alachua County.
High school students will not be the only ones heading to the beach next week. In keeping with a practice that started in 1995, the Alachua County Sheriff's Office will send deputies to help St. Johns County deputies patrol the beach.
Alachua County's contingent will include school resource officers who know many of the high school students headed to the beach to party. So, what happens in Crescent Beach doesn't stay in Crescent Beach.
"I think the best thing that happened was when the school resource officers started going," said School Board member Wes Eubank. "They keep them (students) from really getting into situations. They prevent a lot."
Sgt. Kelvin Jenkins said 19 deputies and supervisors - 10 in the first half of the week and nine in the latter - will head over.
That's the largest group sent in "many, many years," Jenkins said. The reason: Other school districts also have spring break next week, and their students will be at the beach as well.
He said deputies' main target will be underage drinking.
During last year's spring break, deputies from St. Johns and Alachua counties busted a party at a rented beach house and found a keg of beer, almost three dozen liquor bottles and drug paraphernalia.
Sgt. Chuck Mulligan, spokesman for the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, said with vehicles allowed on the beach, traffic patrols, particularly for speeding, will also be a priority.
Jenkins said the Alachua County Sheriff's Office will set up a telephone hotline for parents who have questions or concerns about what is transpiring at Crescent Beach.
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