The West Surf Beach is the beach area on the south side (Gulf side) of the west end of Dauphin Island, from Pirates Cove all the way down to the area known as the West End Beach.
On the south side of Bienville Blvd, Pirates Cove is the sand-covered “street” just east of Ponce de Leon. The portion of Pirates Cove which is south of Bienville is shown on Google Maps, even though it is currently inaccessible due to sand buildup over the years.
Some people confuse the West End Beach with the West Surf Beach.
Public & Private Beaches on the Gulf Side
The Park & Beach Board Public Beach. PUBLIC.
This is the area south of the large condominium complexes and the schoolhouse, which is bounded on the west by the street called Pirates Cove, and on the east by the edge of the Isle Dauphine property. These beaches are owned by the Dauphin Island Park & Beach Board, and are open to the public. Those areas are shown by the yellow boxes in the map graphic above, on the East End.
The West End Beach. PUBLIC.
This is a small area at the west end of Bienville Blvd, owned by the Town of Dauphin Island, and open to the public. Its location is shown by a small yellow box in the map graphic above, between the two large areas of private property marked in red.
The Audubon Bird Sanctuary Beach. PUBLIC.
This beach is on the East End of the island, and open to the public. It is denoted by the yellow boxed area on the far right of the map graphic above.
The Far West End. PRIVATE.
This area is marked by a large red box which lies to the west of the West End Beach at the end of Bienville. This area is privately owned by one entity, and is not open to the public.
The West Surf Beach. PRIVATE.
The West Surf Beach is collectively owned by all island property owners, and is open only to property owners and their guests (including renters). It is not open to the public. Details below.
The West Surf Beach is open only to property owners and their renters/guests
The West Surf Beach is private property, owned by the DIPOA and property owners. It is open only to Dauphin Island property owners and their guests (which includes renters).
That said, the public may walk along the “water line” or “tide line” (formally known as the mean high tide line) of the West Surf Beach, but the public may not sit down, make camp, set up chairs, umbrellas, etc., anywhere on the West Surf Beach.
As mentioned, the West Surf Beach is private property – jointly owned by ALL island property owners, not just by those property owners whose lots are south of Bienville Blvd. All of the West Surf Beach is open for sit-down use by all island property owners and their renters/guests. No portion of the West Surf Beach is private exclusively for the houses on the Gulf side, with this exception:
There are cases where the beach directly in front of some gulf-front houses has eroded to the point where the southern boundary of the private lot is at or beyond the water line. In these cases, where the boundaries of a lot extend to or beyond the water line, the sand right down to the water line (the mean high tide line) is still part of that private lot.
It is difficult or impossible for other island property owners (and their renters/guests) to know where the southern boundary lies for a lot which has suffered erosion. Many gulf-front lots from Raphael Semmes St. and further west (where the erosion has been the worst) are 100 ft. wide by 200 ft. long, with most houses being positioned roughly in the middle of the lot. If there is less than 30-50 feet of dry sand between a house and the water line, it is possible that portion of sand is part of the private lot of that house. If there is no house on a partially-submerged lot, the lot lines are even harder to determine without a GIS map.
Note that even in cases with eroded, partially-submerged lots, the public may still legally walk along the water line (the wet sand), because the mean high tide line has, in a sense, “moved” and is now further north. The public may not stop and sit down there, but it is legal for them to walk by on the wet sand in passing, even if erosion has resulted in part of that private property being underwater.
If the beach was ever restored to pre-Katrina levels, so that submerged lots were once again visible, then the West Surf Beach would again exist in those areas, south of those lots, between the southern boundaries of the private lots and the water line.
The West Surf Beach was public for 7 years
For 55 years prior to February 2009, the West Surf Beach on Dauphin Island was private property. The West Surf Beach was established when the Dauphin Island Property Owners Association (DIPOA) came into existence, and new parcels on the island, including the West End, were put up for sale to private property owners.
After decades of erosion (caused in part by the ship channel dredging), the Town of Dauphin Island and the DIPOA came to an agreement – the DIPOA would deed the West Surf Beach to the Town of Dauphin Island, in the hopes that by converting the beach to public property, it would help the Town to acquire restoration funds from state and/or federal sources to rebuild the eroding West Surf Beach.
When the proposal was first being discussed, and about to be put up for a vote by the property owners, a group of property owners felt it was not wise to simply give away that land to the Town without a guarantee that restoration would happen. So an agreement was struck – the DIPOA would give the Town a maximum of seven years to acquire funding and begin a restoration project. If the Town did not meet the goals stated in the deed agreement within seven years, the West Surf Beach would revert to ownership of the DIPOA and the property owners.
Since no beach restoration project for the West Surf Beach was begun during those years when the land was owned by the Town of Dauphin Island, the West Surf Beach was returned to the property owners in February 2016, and the beach once again became private property.
The Far West End is all private property
As mentioned, note that the entire Far West End of the island – the undeveloped land west of the small public area right around the West End Beach parking lot – is private property, owned by a single family. It has been this way since the 1950s, when lots on the West End first began to be put up for sale. Walking along the water line of the Far West End is legal, but sitting, camping, fishing, etc. on that property – by anyone other than the owners – is trespassing and is not legal.
This is partly the reason why the Town purchased a small portion of land (now called the West End Beach) at the western end of Bienville Blvd, from the owners of the Far West End, so that there would be some public beach area down there, in addition to the other gulf-front public beach areas.
Some Private Lots Are Underwater
As noted above, some private lots on the West Surf Beach are underwater, and this has been the case since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The owners of some of the underwater lots are still paying taxes on the land they purchased. The hope is that someday a beach restoration project will restore their lots for use once again.
Until such time (if ever) that a beach restoration project restores those lots, the mean high tide line is considered to be roughly where it is shown in the satellite photo above, where the water currently meets the beach during a typical high tide (not a high tide caused by storm surge).
The public can walk across those underwater private lots at present (since those lots are now south of what has become the mean high tide line), as long as they are only passing by and staying on the wet sand area.
But again, note that while it is legal to walk along the water’s edge of the West Surf Beach, it is trespassing to stop there (or anywhere else that is private beach) for fishing, sitting, camping, etc.
Perhaps public again someday?
If funds could be found for a large restoration project that would restore much of the West Surf Beach which has been lost to erosion, it is possible that the island property owners may be willing to convert the West Surf Beach back to public, as was done in the years between 2009 and 2016 when a restoration project was hoped for, but did not come to fruition.
The more people (property owners and visitors alike) who support efforts to get funding for and undertake a major restoration project for the Gulf-front beach on the West End, the more chances there may be for converting the land back for use by the public.