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TL;DR: Do I have a right to walk on the beach at Eglin Air Force Base if I don't stray from the water's edge?

I've been walking along the beach in Florida for years. Part of my route used to take me onto Eglin AFB where I would pick up trash as I got some exercise.
I was eventually stopped by a park ranger and told to stay by the waterline, that I'm not allowed to be even near the dunes as it was Air Force property.

There are "No Trespassing" signs at the edge of the AF Base property that go perpendicular to the water but the tide rarely goes high enough to reach them. I presumed, because of what I was told by the park ranger, that if the tide WAS up to the signs, that would be my indicator that I could no longer walk down that part of the beach.

A couple of weeks ago I was walking on the waters edge as usual and a Security Forces member in uniform called me up to the dunes where he wrote me a ticket for trespassing. I told him what I had been told and he said that that was a fallacy and that those rangers are volunteers.
He mentioned something in passing about the 100 year low tide line and it being OK to then walk out there. He assured me that the exact laws would be referenced on my ticket but they were not.

I know Florida has public access laws for beaches and private property but do they not also apply for federal land?

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In most cases state laws do not apply to Federal lands according to the Supremacy clause of the Constitution.

However, if the land is merely purchased land, such as a military base, then some state laws apply depending on whether those laws would "interfere with a federal purpose". So, there would have to be a federal regulation or law that specifically forbids the public from having access to the beach on federally owned properties.

Eglin Air Force Base has specific regulations regarding beach access on its property. While some beaches on Eglin property are open to the public with a required free beach permit, such as the Airman Beach Access and Princess Beach Access, there are areas that are closed to all forms of public access due to military testing and training. The East Pass Beach Area, the West Pass Beach, and certain parking areas in Destin are closed to the public. Additionally, the beach on Santa Rosa Island from Fort Walton Beach to Navarre Beach is also closed to public access​​​​​​. However, Eglin does maintain other public beach access points on the island for DoD cardholders and the public with a permit​​.

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  • "there would have to be a federal regulation or law that specifically forbids the public from having access to the beach on federally owned properties": but is the area beyond the high water mark federally owned? In many states, private property ends at the high water mark. This seems to be the case in Florida, too. To exert control over the area beyond the high water mark, the federal government would have to invoke some law other than that of property ownership.
    – phoog
    Nov 14, 2023 at 12:20
  • @phoog Yes, by logic, but since when is federal law logical? The whole thing is extra legal. They also search and ransack boats in US lakes and rivers with no search warrants all the time. The military does all kinds of illegal and unconstitutional things. Just start writing the word "nuclear" in your emails and watch all the crazy and unconstitutional things that happen next.
    – Cicero
    Nov 14, 2023 at 12:33
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    "The whole thing is extra legal": is it, though? I rather suspect that it isn't. Further, does it matter? If the USAF has a legitimate reason for restricting access and the current legal justification is inadequate, then suing for access will ultimately lead to the USAF issuing new regulations. The benefit of such a suit, on the other hand, would be to bring to light the question of whether the USAF's reasons for restricting access are indeed sufficient. "They also search and ransack boats in US lakes and rivers with no search warrants all the time": I'm curious: do you have some links?
    – phoog
    Nov 14, 2023 at 12:52
  • so what does "beach access" mean? That seems to be the issue here.
    – Tiger Guy
    Nov 14, 2023 at 17:52
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    @Cicero I have 1,875 messages in my email inbox containing the word "nuclear", many from such suspicious entities as HBO, CrowdPAC, the Washington Post, and the Planetary Society. Are they going to be OK? Nov 18, 2023 at 23:27
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You do not have the right to walk on the waterline at Eglin

Eglin AFB has water areas you are restricted from, and has signage on beaches where you are not allowed. You cannot lawyer your away out of this by claiming to be standing in the water, you aren't allowed in the water either. Florida's "Mean high water mark" standard will not apply here, it's Federal land, and I promise there are laws that let them decide where you are allowed.

https://www.eglin.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/3329847/from-the-commander-closed-test-areas-and-beach-access/

https://www.eglin.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/813886/boat-patrol-protects-eglins-coastline/

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  • Based on the first response, I figured claiming I was told I could walk on the waterline by (from my perspective) an official from the base would be futile so I paid the fine. Nov 15, 2023 at 2:23

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