280 Vanderbilt Beach Rd. , Naples, FL
NAPLES — Vanderbilt Beach Park is scheduled for a $1.2 million restroom makeover, expected to begin next year and be completed the following year.
But until then, beach-goers will have to keep muddling through with the cramped restrooms at the park’s entrance, and the weathered wooden boardwalks that lead from parking garage to beach to restroom.
Collier County’s parks and recreation department recently replaced the signs on those wooden boardwalks that warn beach-goers that the walkways are susceptible to splintering and raised nail heads. The warnings, placed at walkway entrances a month ago, replaced signs with virtually identical wording, county spokesman John Torre said.
The new signs read: “WARNING: Walk on the boardwalk at your own risk. Because of the nature of its construction the boardwalk may evidence splinters, raised boards, knot holes and nail heads. Because of weather conditions boardwalk may be slippery and or hot.”
County staff members also have replaced a couple of the boards in the walkway leading from the beach to the bathroom, though the walkway remains visibly dilapidated by sand, water and wear. Once bearing a coat of dark brown paint, the wood has been worn down by foot traffic, leaving pitted, uneven boards.
Even still, Torre said, the walkway isn’t slated for any sort of replacement in light of the new complex slated for construction there.
“(There are) no plans to replace the boardwalk,” Torre wrote in an email. “Our risk management department has indicated that they feel the boardwalk still has a useful life.”
Beachgoers at Vanderbilt Beach Park say they barely notice the signs, though, and if they do, they still don’t worry much about the state of the boardwalks.
What's at stake
Collier County’s parks and recreation department recently replaced the signs on those wooden boardwalks that warn beach-goers that the walkways are susceptible to splintering and raised nail heads.
The warnings, placed at walkway entrances a month ago, replaced signs with virtually identical wording, county spokesman John Torre said.
“I think it’s useless because I can see it’s wood, and it’s the only way I reach the shower,” said Claudia Wichmann, who was vacationing from Switzerland with her husband, Gerd, and their two children. “So, I take a great risk.”
Asked if she felt that walking on the boardwalk was truly a risk, as indicated by the signs, she responded with a laugh: “Not really.”
North Naples resident Annie Puco laughed too when she realized that in all the years of her once- or twice-weekly trips to Vanderbilt Beach, she had never noticed the signs.
“I think it’s a shame that nowadays you have to protect yourself from lawsuits everywhere you go,” Puco said.
Torre didn’t respond to a question about how the signs square with the county’s legal obligations.
However, Naples attorney Theodore Zelman said there are lawsuits against the county, including ones brought by his firm, that pivot on the issue. Zelman said his firm hasn’t filed any lawsuits on behalf of people injured at Vanderbilt Beach Park in particular, but rather on other county-owned property.
“Property owners have a duty to maintain their premises in a reasonable manner,” Zelman said. “Putting a sign up would not absolve them of that responsibility. Property owners also have the responsibility to warn people of a matter about which they have better knowledge.”
That being said, Zelman said the county, like any good property owner, is being responsible by warning people.
For visitors to county parks though, it’s just another day at the beach.
“They just want to protect themselves,” said Gerd Wichmann, the tourist visiting with his family from Switzerland. “I think it’s more an American thing (to be worried about lawsuits.) It’s not really a European thing.”