Walking with Dr. Beach to Find Out What Makes a Great Beach
When Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman was 4-years-old, his parents brought in a dump truck full of sand to transform most of his Charlotte, N.C., backyard into a sandbox. They thought this would prevent the youngster from playing in red clay notorious for ruining his clothing. When he was six, Leatherman found himself on Myrtle Beach visiting family. According to the professor, his mother told him his eyes grew wide in awe upon seeing a true beach for the first time.
From that point, family vacations were decided on by majority votes and while enjoying lunch in a rental home on Don Pedro Island, Dr. Leatherman told me and our small group he would bribe his siblings with candy bars so they voted to vacation visiting family who lived near the beach rather than visiting family who lived in the North Carolina mountains.
Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman has grown up to become America’s foremost beach expert and is recognized as Dr. Beach. Since 1991, he has released a Top 10 Best Beaches in America list and working in the Florida tourism industry, I always wondered how beaches made his list. Today, thanks to Robin Madden with Islander Properties, I had the opportunity to learn how he does it and while I expected him to just walk out onto the beach, put his hands on his hips, survey the area and make an assessment, there’s a true science to what he does. This morning’s trip was a journey to Stump Pass Beach located at the northern end of Knight Island, Palm Island Resort, Don Pedro Island and Don Pedro Island State Park located in Southwest Florida near Englewood, Fla.
I won’t go into detail about the process or the day but basically, Dr. Beach uses a 50 beach rating criteria to rank beaches on a five-point scale. He assesses physical factors such as sand softness, beach slope, smell, accessibility, and lifeguards.
One of the participating journalists asked if he deducted points for those pesky lovebugs and his response was, “No…only deduct points for biting things,” such as mosquitoes or no-see-ums.
Dr. Beach joked he gave extra credit in the wildlife department at the first beach we visited, by Stump Pass, just north of Palm Island Resort on Knight Island. This was because of the osprey perched behind us watching the process and a dolphin playing in a boat’s wake.
In addition to the checklist, Dr. Beach measured the beach’s width, sand grain size with sifters, and current with a solid dye. He told us that if this was a true evaluation, he would have went for a swim and measured water clarity with a secchi disc.
Easily accessible, restrooms and lifeguards are important when it comes to making a top 10 list and with the exception of Don Pedro Island State Park having restrooms, showers, private boat and passenger ferry service, the other beaches visited today do not have these amenities.
And that’s okay because overall, he seemed to really like what he saw and specifically said Don Pedro Island State Park is “a great place…[it’s] my type of place.”
Dr. Beach releases his annual Top 10 Best Beaches in America list every Memorial Day. Visit his website (www.drbeach.org) for his current top 10 rankings.
And here is a related article about on how Dr. Beach rates beaches for his top 10 list.