Not far from the New Smyrna Beach Coast Guard Station in Volusia County, Florida, is the entrance to the New Smyrna Dunes Park. The park consists of about 73 acres and encompasses five ecosystems (dunes, scrub zone, saltwater marsh, ocean, and river). The dunes are the primary ecosystem on display.
The park supports a variety of bird life, reptiles, mammals, rodents and marsupials. It’s not unusual to see osprey, seagulls, pelicans and terns soaring out over the waters of Ponce Inlet. Pay attention and you might see gopher tortoises moving among the scrub as they forage for tasty bites. Evidence of other wildlife, including raccoons, armadillos, opossums, and rabbits are evident in the tracks dotting the arid landscape. Wear sunglasses and keep your eyes peeled and you may see evidence of snakes that have slid across the dunes.
Just before the entrance to the boardwalk is a covered pavilion with restrooms, benches, and cold drink machines. There are showers outside. The office area typically has the tides posted on a chalkboard along with information regarding educational programs or walking tours.
When we first moved to the New Smyrna Beach area, these dunes were high, maybe 20’ or more. We would use pieces of cardboard and slide down them. Environmental concerns weren’t a big concern back then. With the completion of the rock jetties at the Inlet, the ocean currents were altered, and the massive dunes eroded due to the effects of the wind, water, and human interaction.
Back in 1981, a 6’ wide elevated wooden boardwalk over the dunes was completed to protect the dwindling, shifting sand from human foot traffic. Sea oats and indigenous flora have helped to cut down on erosion. The walkway and the plant growth have reduced the environmental impact caused by humans.
The walkway allows people to access the ocean from a paved parking lot. The boardwalk is accessible to physically challenged persons, although the walkway is rough and splintery in areas. Plans recently were approved that will allow the replacement and redevelopment of the boardwalk and the addition of a fishing pier. Beginning in August 2016 and running to March 2017, portions of the walkway will close due to construction. The renovation will increase the width of the boardwalk to 8’. That should help users if they are hauling gear such as coolers, chairs and fishing equipment down to the beach.
The existing boardwalk extends for over 2 miles. People jog or walk its length. Surfers often use it as a way to get down to Ponce Inlet and the Jetties to surf. Instead of driving north to the Jetties, surfers can leave their cars in the Smyrna Dunes Park parking lot instead of running the risk of getting their vehicles stuck when the tide comes in.
If you climb the observation tower about halfway down the boardwalk, you can get an overview of the area. When looking out over the dunes, from the observation tower, you can spot the Atlantic Ocean, Ponce Inlet, the Ponce deLeon Inlet Lighthouse and the Indian River.
Along the walkway are areas with covered picnic tables. Some have grills available. However, no running water or electricity is provided.
The boardwalk surface can be blistering hot in the summer. It’s best to wear flip flops, water shoes or some other footwear. Dogs and children are susceptible to the hot boards, so make sure they wear foot protection (get some for dogs online) and keep hydrated.
New Smyrna Dunes Park is one of only two parks in the County that allow dogs. It has a pet-friendly beach. Make sure that your furry friends wear a leash. Signs posted indicate that you can take your dog on the boardwalk until 10 am. After that, you can walk them on the designated pathways that parallel the boardwalk and turn towards the sea. There are water bowls and hoses up near the shelter where you can get the dogs a drink of fresh water and rinse their fur off after a swim.
The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. This is a relatively low-cost, budget location for families. However, there is a daily fee for park use. Annual park passes are available too.