A reader asks: “When entering a Public Beach via access through a private community ( i.e. Shoys, Judith’s Fancy), what information can these communities require from a user in order to gain access? Secondly, what are the rules for dogs on a public beach?”
The V.I. Open Shoreline Act of 1971 gives the public the right to access all shorelines in the territory from the water’s edge to 50 feet from mean low tide, under most circumstances. Text of the law may be viewed by searching the V.I. code through Michie’s Legal Resources at www.michie.com.
While the public has a right to use the beach, people do not have an unfettered right to cross private residential property to get to the shore, according to Planning and Natural Resources Department Spokesman Jamal Nielsen.
“They don’t have to let you cross over in residential areas, but CZM (DPNR’s Division of Coastal Zone Management) does make stipulations for easements for public access for major developments like Divi (Carina Bay Resort),” he said.
In principle, a neighborhood or a private property owner could tell everyone to go around and find another way to the shore, Nielsen said. Since property owners do not have to let people cross, they could presumably also put conditions on crossing, such as giving identification.
“The law is somewhat ambiguously written, however,” Nielsen said. “So any clarification would have to come from the lawmakers in the Legislature.”
As for dogs, the law does not expressly forbid them on all beaches. However, according to Sports, Parks and Recreation Commissioner St. Claire Williams, dogs are generally forbidden on public beaches that are maintained by the V.I. government, such as Frederiksted Beach, St. Croix’s Cramer Park and the Vincent Mason Coral Resort.
On shorefront maintained by the National Park Service in the St. Croix district, dogs are prohibited within Buck Island Reef National Monument but may be on leashes by the waterfront around Fort Christiansvaern in Christiansted, according to National Park Service Superintendent Joel Tutein.
Publicly owned Magens Bay beach on St. Thomas, maintained by the semiautonomous volunteer Magens Bay Authority, forbids dogs on the beach except for seeing-eye dogs.
On St. John, no pets are allowed on the beaches within the V.I. National Park, only seeing-eye dogs, but dogs may be on hiking trails so long as they are on a leash, according to park Public Information Officer Paul Thomas.
While dogs are not legally prohibited on other public beaches, the territory does have a leash law, requiring all dogs to be on leashes of six feet or less in length when in public, with fines starting at $200.