Pine Island: Only Public Beach in Hernando County

Photography by Elizabeth Dentato & Kevin White

There is only one public beach in Hernando County on the Gulf of Mexico. The beach is called Alfred McKethan/Pine Island Beach Park. The coast line of Hernando County is naturally saltwater marshes, so to get to the barrier islands requires crossing these salt marshes. There is a two and a half mile causeway that is dredged through the salt marshes that leads to the barrier island on which the beach is located.

Causeway to Pine Island, by Elizabeth Dentato

One of the earliest mentions of Pine Island was in regards to a former fisherman from Pine Island being a potential witness to the murder of the City Attorney of Brooksville Herbert Smithson on October 12th, 1931. Mr. Smithson was shot several times with shotguns as he walked to his car parked in front of the Tangerine Hotel in Brooksville. Mr. Smithson was meeting with Circuit Judge Bird of Clearwater and Attorney J. R. Kelly. It is rumored that Mr. Smithson was investigating illegal bootlegging in Hernando County during prohibition.

According to Alfred McKethan's Hernando County: Our Story, a "highway" was first built to connect Pine Island to the mainland in 1925. Another historian sets the date for the creation of the causeway prior to 1925. No improvements to the island occurred in the years following the causeway's construction. The development that was planned was scuttled in the Florida land bust of 1925. McKethan's Our Story describes how a stand of tall longleaf yellow pines were taken out to make way for a radar station during World War II. In Douglas Waitley's Best Backroads of Florida: Beaches and hills he says "Pine Island supported a beautiful stand of longleaf pines, but, during World War II, the trees were felled so as not to interfere with the anti-submarine radar station built here." Another historian's account was that that the radar station was actually built on Bayport as Pine Island was prone to flooding and cites a mound near the Bayport Inn as the place where the radar station once stood.

In 1950, a hurricane destroyed the wooden bridge to Pine Island. The family that lived on the Island at the time was the Plummer family, who were commercial fisherman. They used boats to bridge the gap and placed planks across boats and used that as a temporary bridge to drive their pickup over. At first Mrs. Plummer refused to drive the pickup across, but after a while she would drive the pickup over the makeshift bridge to deliver the fish. The Plummer family ended their fishing business in the 1960s, because a change to state law made their fishing methods illegal.

by Elizabeth Dentato

In the early 1950s, when Alfred McKethan was the chairman of the State Road Department (currently known as Department of Transportation), the road from 50 to Bayport was improved. The southern tip of Pine Island was donated to the State for a park. The park influenced the state to undertake improvements to the road that led to Pine Island. In 1959, developers split the remainder of the island into 101 residential lots.

A neighboring island, called Bimini's Isle, located between Pine Island and Bayport was once owned by Col. Raymond Robbins of Chinsegut Hill. He made an island home there where community organizations such as the Hernando County Audubon Society would gather to observe the wide variety of bird species on the island. The Robbins would also bring celebrities and dignitaries there. The island is not as large as Pine Island. An article in The Evening Independent, 1940, describes the caretaker at the time, F.D. Spear explaining how the island became a bird sanctuary. The Robbins built a dyke on the island for fresh water, which attracted a wide variety of birds. The island formerly had no source of fresh water.

Pavilion at Sunset by Elizabeth Dentato

The Alfred McKethan/Pine Island Beach Park is surrounded on three sides by water. The water gradually gets deeper so you can walk out quite a ways. During some tides you can wade to nearby islands.

The park abuts salt marshes which serve as an estuary for many animals. Small fish are plentiful and there are many blue crabs that scurry along bottom. There are also areas where there are sea grasses.

The three acre park has parking for a little over a hundred cars. Besides the beach, the park has a concession stand, restrooms, picnic tables, bbq grills, and a volleyball court. The park fills up quickly on a nice day, so if you would like to be assured of a place to park you have to arrive early. The park is open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m and parking costs $5.

Pine Island Drum Circle by Kevin White

The park is also home to drum circle. A drum circle is a gathering where people play hand-drums and percussion. The term drum circles originated in the 1960s and 70s. Drum circles were particularly popular among counterculture groups. In June, the drum circle will have their third anniversary.

Pine Island used to be open to dogs early in the morning every other Saturday, but that was ended by the county’s Park and Recreation Department in 2015. They cited safety concerns for the decision.

Pine Island has a long history. It is a popular destination for residents during the day to cool off or in the evening to watch the sun set.

Pine Island Beach Park at Dusk by Elizabeth Dentato

Pine Island Beach Park at Dusk by Elizabeth Dentato
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