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Nancy Smith

Walton County Customary-Use Leaders Playing a Dangerous Game

September 8, 2018 - 6:00am

Nowhere in Florida is the new law dealing with beach access the firestorm it has become in Walton County. The reason is complicated. But many folks along the panhandle's Emerald Coast claim it's not helping that a pair of local crusaders have a lot of citizens convinced House Bill 631 is the worst thing to befall Florida since Mercury went retrograde.

In the last month Dave Rauschkolb and Daniel Uhlfelder -- brothers in activism -- have made themselves the pied pipers of HB 631 repeal -- whipping people up to sign affidavits, attend meetings, donate money -- in a nutshell, "make Florida beaches public for all." 

Rauschkolb is a restaurateur, Uhlfelder an attorney. Together they're what former seasonal Seaside resident Lilly Bell calls "a tag team," dominating social media and public meetings to get people riled up against each other.

"Walton used to have only a handful of beachfront residents who wanted to enforce their privacy all the way to the water," said the retired interior decorator. "But most of them didn't care if people sat on their sand. Then Dave and Dan came along and caught a glimpse of the fame and attention they could get nationally. Now we have a civil war here."

The war, she said, is between the "coastal elites" -- residents, guests and tourists who live or vacation along 30A, the scenic beach road, -- and the rest of Walton County.

Bill Nelson showed up
Bill Nelson showed up

Bell told Sunshine State News, "All you need is a camera, and (Rauschkolb and Uhlfelder) come running. They need to control people. They like to hear themselves talk and read what they write on Facebook. I think they're on some kind of power trip. My late husband called them a tag team."

HB 631, was sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole, D-Plantation. The bill passed the Florida Legislature with an overwhelming bipartisan majority and 100 percent support of the Walton County delegation -- 29-7 March 6 in the Senate and 95-17 March 8 in the House. That's a total of 24 votes against in the whole of the Legislature. No wonder the governor didn't veto it. Why would he?

Uhlfelder believes the legislation was a sneak attack -- that Walton was deliberately excluded until it was too late to fight back. Which is why I was disappointed Rep. Brad Drake, R-DeFuniak Springs never returned my call. I would have liked to ask him why he or the county's stable of lobbyists  didn't point out 631 to County Administrator Larry Jones, at the very least. 

Jones, incidentally, did his Master's thesis in customary use.  Perhaps he might explain how he could let the county adopt an incomplete and unacceptable customary-use ordinance.

Meanwhile, Rauschkolb and Uhlfelder were discovering the high-theater potential of private property rights vs. customary use. They made customary use their next fight for justice.

Rauschkolb, who owns three restaurants in Seaside and a bakery/cafe/catering company in Grayton Beach, is used to getting things done. He takes credit for what he calls "game-changing community initiatives" including keeping high-rise condos out of South Walton, founding Hands Across The Sand (to stop offshore oil drilling in Florida); lobbying to remove the Confederate flag from the DeFuniak Springs courthouse, launching an effort to incorporate South Walton, and now something he calls "Stand Your Sand" -- a take-off of Stand Your Ground and an initiative for customary use of Florida’s beaches.

Uhlfelder, son of prominent Tallahassee lobbyist Steve Uhlfelder, has worked as a law clerk, staff aide in The White House, in the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives. Now he has his own general law practice on 30A in Grayton Beach. Among his causes, he says he has worked avidly to bring down the Confederate flag. And he believes creating a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization called Florida Beaches for All (FBFA) is the way to "overturn bad law and give citizens the fundamental right to use and enjoy all our beaches. ... I was raised in an environment where you stood up for things, not on the sidelines," he said during a telephone interview.

Uhlfelder made national news in July, the weekend after Gov. Rick Scott signed an emergency order supporting open beaches. And that's when his mushroom started to grow -- away from compromise, closer to a move for legislation repeal.

Uhlfelder challenged the new law two days in a row -- some say he was trying to get arrested for trespassing on private sand, but he claims he was "just trying to get a line drawn in the sand" so he would know where he could legally park his beach chair. The second day, when a security guard called the Sheriff's Department, Uhlfelder made sure his experience was recorded on YouTube and displayed on Facebook. The video went viral, gaining more than 100,000 views on YouTube alone and well over 1 million views across social  media platforms. (The video is displayed on this page.)

In addition, Rauschkolb was interviewed on the Weather Channel, which serves millions of viewers across America. National Public Radio showed up on the beach soon after. So did U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, looking for an opportunity to kick the governor, his senatorial opponent in November. And between the two proactive "protests" -- Uhlfelder's and Rauschkolb's and what has been described as "dozens of media interview requests," Walton's war for the beach had begun.

But some in the county, even the ones who don't live on the beach, have begun to grumble about what this customary-use movement is doing to their jewel of a county, and wonder if there might have been a more civil way for the two sides to come together.

Here are some of the disturbing aspects to Walton's situation:

The Conspiracy Theory. You don't often find a tin foil hat on a liberal, but Uhlfelder, the registered Republican for voting convenience only, sure is wearing one. This leader so many customary-use advocates are counting on has a conspiracy theory that goes straight to the top. He feels certain Walton County, where the suspicious "Governor Mike Huckabee" is a beach-owning resident, is being victimized by powerful dark forces. Uhlfelder is convinced "right-wing groups" -- for example, the Koch Brothers and the private property rights law firm Pacific Legal Foundation -- have hatched a plot at the highest level to  make customary use unconstitutional and to privatize every inch of beach in America. "It's close," he told me. "They could do this in two years." 

The Hypocrite Factor. Rauschkolb and Uhlfelder both live in communities with gated private beach access. Dave lives in fully-gated Watersound, Dan in Watercolor. To challenge the law and make his YouTube video, Uhlfelder had to contrive his beach outing to Vizcaya -- travel down to the end of 30A more than seven miles away, past some nine beach access points, when he had his own beach. Reading recent Facebook postings, the deception isn't sitting well with some residents.

Using the Sheriff.  Sheriff Mike Adkinson and his deputies are slap-bang in the middle of the dispute. Adkinson is the right sheriff at the right time for on-the-spot conflict resolution -- patient, good with people, wanting desperately not to arrest anybody for trespassing. "I'm not proferring an opinion of customary use," he said. "My job is to make sure we're not being arbitrary and capricious in the way we apply the law. A sheriff's office should never be the tool to resolve this. ... But I can tell you this: All these people who say 'we're saving the beaches'? No, they're not. The only place this is going to be decided is in court."

Overlooking the Good Guys. Some 90 percent of Walton's beachfront property owners are embarrassed and offended to be lumped in with the 10 percent erecting signs and stringing up ropes to keep people off the sand. They don't mind well-behaved trespassers, as their presence on county Facebook sites attests. I asked Uhlfelder if he would entertain compromise instead of repeal. He said no. "You know what compromise is, don't you? It's money. They want us to pay for our own sand." 

Affecting Tourism. Last year Walton welcomed 4.5 million visitors. Because of such strong tourism, the county records the lowest adjusted property tax rate in Florida. But 2018 might not be as strong if the compulsory-use battle continues. I asked VISIT FLORIDA Marketing Director Meagan Dougherty, by phone and by email, what affect, if any, the beach-access publicity was having on Walton tourism. She did not respond. But another VISIT FLORIDA official answered my question on condition of anonymity. "Hospitality industry people in Northwest Florida are telling us reservations are down and cancellations are up," the official said. "Of course they are. The national media got hold of a story that's telling the nation Florida's beaches are closed."

Fast, Loose and Frightening. Dan Uhlfelder is a lawyer. Florida Beaches for All is his baby. So, wouldn't you think he would make a priority of protecting the reputations of the people and organizations bundling under the FBFA umbrella? Last I looked, the non-profit 1) hadn't registered as a 501(c)(4) and 2) wasn't collecting Department of Revenue sales tax on the T-shirts and tank tops it's selling. (CORRECTION: FBFA is registered as a non-profit and must answer to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, not the Department of Revenue. I apologize for the error. But the issue is this: The charity is not registered with the state to solicit contributions at this time. That requires a permit FBFA does not have. When FBFA does apply, and their name appears on the "Check-a-Charity Florida" website, I will write a follow-up story to confirm the legal changes have been made.) 

Deception, Confusion. Hundreds of Walton Countians are expected to show up at today's public hearing on customary use at South Walton High School with signed and notorized affidavits. But when they do, many of them might discover they've been misled.

'You mean, our affidavits aren't going to get us back our use of the beaches?" Walton visitor Daniel Flyer asked me.

Flyer said he was led to believe the affidavit he signed and had notorized was as good as a petition to repeal the law. Which is what Uhlfelder is urging. He didn't fully realize the hearing was a county meeting set by commissioners to gather evidence of customary use -- citizens' use of the beaches over a period of 20 years -- so the county can prepare an ordinance that complies with the judicial process laid out in the new Florida law.

No wonder Flyer's misunderstanding makes sense. If you plan to repeal, why would you need to complete the county's affidavit?

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: NancyLBSmith 


It's hard to balance private and public use of beaches. I hope a solution is found that allows access to beaches for Rosemary Beach citizens.

So Ulfelder took some photos in front of Huckabee's house and now Seaside, where signs are posted. Some were posted on social media but are now taken down? He is clearly taunting the WCSO to PLEASE ARREST ME SO I CAN GET SOME MONEY FOR MY STRUGGLING LAW FIRM. This is disgusting and will ultimately be the undoing of the CU front. It is sad when some champion an idea not for the actual merit of the idea itself, but for personal gain. Yes, go ahead and read that again. "it is sad when some champion an idea not for the actual merit of the idea itself, but for personal gain."

That’s correct. Dan Uhlfelder needs his own sandbox somewhere else and to stop screwing up Walton. At this point even the Florida Bar should kick him out. He does not even understand quiet title and has half the county misinformed. As an attorney!!!!!

If I hear one more parroting local complaining that all 26 miles of beach was purchased for $100 with quiet title and quit claim deeds my head is going to explode. These guys start rumors and they take off all over the community.

These clowns are fraudsters. Shame to each of them, shame, shame, shame.

The rogues gallery of Dan, Dave, Cynthia and Tony is missing the mastermind. County Administrator Larry Jones. He's the George Soros of customary use in Walton county. He's been working on customary use for over a decade. Jones wrote a school paper and has been peddling the socialist customary take to anyone who will listen. Jones has a long relationship with Mr. customary use attorney David Theriaque. Someone needs to investigate Walton County Administrator Larry Jones. Theriaque is either paying him off, kick backs or promising to make Jones a consultant in his law firm if they win finally win a case.

L. Jones has a long relationship with Theriaque. Doesn't he like to be treated like a "baby"???

C. Jones not Cynthia

Oysters to Pearls The activism of don dave I think I created a monster

Ok, I notice now that I was wrong about CU. After reading this article, and then the comments, it's obvious that there is a misleading of the public campaign afoot. Don't know Dave or the other guy, but these comments, and his responses, give him up as well as his personal ambitions. Do the math.

I believe this characterizes our situation adequately and offers solutions whether our County is awarded renewed Customary Use or not. ACCESS AND USE, CONVENIENCE ADVANTAGES AND SOLUTIONS FOR HOUSEKEEPING ON THE BEACH This issue is based on the difference between access and use. In most privately held areas access to the beach is controlled just like in Seaside, Rosemary, Watersound, Watercolor & Alys and others. Use is a different thing all together which is causing all the hullabaloo over Customary Use. The perception problem I see with the private beach advocates is this: "if I own the access, I own the beach." I say they are two different things entirely and the problem arises when one group perceives them to be together and another group sees them as separate. Rosemary Beach, Seaside, Watersound, Alys and others all have accesses that are private, meaning they control the "easy" access to the beaches; they are the closest to guest homes and parking. Each street has an access for convenience much in the same way Seagrove Beach was designed by Cube McGee. Unlike in Seaside, Cube in the 1940s kept the access public and the beach was and most of it still is deeded for public use. Having an easy access is premium. The fact about going to the beach is, most people just don't want to lug all their beach stuff in the sand more than say, 50 yards. In Seaside, Robert Davis has chosen, for the past 40 years to allow public access to town center. That access is a positive element when you purchased because "it accommodated all."; I believe the public town center access is good for our town. Again, we are talking about "access." In these instances where privately held towns/resorts have private access it is bought and paid for; it is the most convenient for that reason. In most all of these towns you have to either be staying there or own there to access the beach conveniently. Public access is an element of wonderful beach towns all around the world and Seaside, thankfully is no different. Part of what makes Seaside exceptional is it's town center public access. Watersound, where I live has the closest public access at Deer Lake State Park just towards the western boundary of Watersound. The closest public access on the east is about a half mile east of the Peninsula gate at Watersound on the other side of the lake bridge. Non residents and tourists do come to Watersound but not too often because it is a long walk. Roughly 65 feet of sandy beach is dedicated to the public in Watersound and all St. Joe properties due to a land deal with the State in the 80's. So, even now Watersound is a public beach with predominantly private access but a large area of the sandy beach is open to the public for sharing if they take the walk. The beach chairs are only usable by renters, homeowners, beach club members or both. Anyone my set up and enjoy the normal customary beach activities anyone would participate in at Watersound Beach. We all know Rosemary Beach and Aly's all have combination locks at all town beach accesses except from the nearest public access. Since HB631 folks may only walk in the wet sand in Rosemary, Alys and the parts of Seaside away from the town center public access area. Now let's discuss use. Because I am a proponent of Customary Use, I believe that anyone who may access the beach from a public access point may use the beach as people customarily have for centuries. Once they are on the beach they may traverse east or west on any part of the sandy beach and enjoy the beach wherever they please provided they are willing to walk that far with all their stuff. Beach vendors used to take orders for chairs and placed them individually for each call wherever the renter wished. At the end of the day they picked up the chairs. It was a clean transaction; drop off, pickup and get paid. They did not take over large swaths of the beaches with unattended beach chairs like they do now; I expect that is about to change. And my hope is Customary Use will prevail so we may go back to the way we have alway used the beaches until July 1, 2018 when HB631 went into effect. I contend that all these towns including Seaside have a geographic advantage or rather, a convenience advantage. Remember I said people don't like to lug their stuff more than 50 yards? It is well documented that the areas where conflict occurs regarding use are the sandy parts of the beaches closest to public accesses. Rosemary Beach's E & W border streets, Seaside's E & W border Streets, Blue Mountain Beach, Ed Walline Beach access, etc....the concern and conflicts mostly happen in these areas because you have the public moving on to the beaches behind private homes that border the public access. I would contend that the interior homes that are more than 100 yards from the public accesses have fewer issues if at all. People just don't have the proclivity to walk long distances to go to a specific beach. So, those beachfront owners who bought near a public access should have known people would be using the beach behind their homes. They had the option of buying an interior home with more seclusion but they did not. Many of those folks, the border folks, are the loudest voices pushing for private beaches. I say if you buy a home right next to a cow pasture...well, then get used to the cows. Buyer beware. Pretty simple. We are not hearing so much complaining from the folks in the more secluded areas away from public accesses. I was in Hanalei Bay on Kauai with my wife some years ago and we stayed at the Princeville Resort. There was a public access around the property to accommodate the public to get to the beach. It was a long walk that most did not take except for the surfers wanting to surf the bay. If you stayed at the resort you had "private access" which was more convenient and provided the privilege of beach chairs and other amenities tied to the resort. The locals and tourists came to the beach by a nearby, bordering public walkway. They had to carry their stuff and were not permitted to rent or use the beach chairs as they were not staying at the resort. They were permitted to use the beach though and set up with their own stuff if they wished. Very few ever did because the resort had a geographic advantage and people had to park and walk a long way to get there. They both shared the resource but with fair ground rules everyone understood. Different access but shared use. Private access on the one hand, Public access on the other. Shared use. Simple, fair and equitable. Lastly, I suggest, whether CU is re-instated or not, to regulate behavior, be proactive and educate beachgoers we should expand the army of TDC paid Beach Ambassadors. They would be uniformed and trained in public relations on the acceptable Walton County beach do's and dont's. All the current volunteers led brilliantly by Laurie Reichenbach could and should be paid positions. I suggested this program to the County, TDC and Sheriff almost two year ago. Through the partnership of a group of dedicated volunteers and paid TDC staff the program is excellently working to help address behavioral complaints from homeowners and inform the beachgoing public. The irony is, I first suggested that program idea to help address behavior complaints from Beachfront owners and since HB631 they may no longer use and traverse most private beaches to do what they were meant to do. I suggest breaking out all of the Walton County Beaches into 3 separate sectors with 3 phone numbers. Each team of Ambassadors would work the beaches 24/7 on some acceptable, small vehicle. Electric would be best because they are quiet. These Ambassadors would respond to Beachfront owners concerns about behavior behind their homes. They would call a Beach Ambassador instead of the Sheriff if someone got out of line. If it escalated then the Sheriff would be called. Mostly they would be helpful, friendly, welcoming ambassadors of our community. Keeping an eye out for deep turtle hole diggers, encouraging safety and informing the public. Occasionally they might be needed to usher someone off the dunes or a private walkover. This program is already working; let's make it really work for beachfront owners and us all.

Just posted on Real Estate professionals do not agree with the claim that Watersound is a "public beach" with convenient access. 610770 Full Agent Report - Residential Detached Single Family - Sold 03/21/2014 Directions: WaterSound Beach is located 5 miles east of the Hwy 395/30A intersection. It is on the south side of 30A and the guard must let you into the community through the gate. Proceed straight and turn right Legal Description: LOT 20 WATERSOUND BEACH PH 2 PB 15-50A-D OR 2512-1951 OR 2551-318 OR 2696-4791 Remarks: ''Painted Sky''~one magnificent sunset is all it takes to understand how this open, bright, classically-coastal, Pinterest-worthy, luxury home got its name. With sweeping, 180 degree views across an unspoiled landscape of pristine dunes, sugar white sand & crystalline blue water, watching a sunset from 'Painted Sky'' is to watch Mother Nature paint a giant sky with the most magnificent colors. Nestled between Deer Lake State Park & Camp Creek Lake on over a mile of private beach, ''Painted Sky'' is tucked away in the exclusive, Gated, Gulf Front community of WaterSound. Upon entering the property, the first thing you notice about ''Painted Sky'' is the space! Situated on one of the largest lots in WaterSound, this compound boast a 5 bedroom, 4 bath main house with over 500

You wonder why people have had enough of Dave and this issue and his behavior? Now you have more proof right here on this page. The obfusication above is almost incredible. He confuses leadership with obfusication. Hell he probably doesn’t even know the difference. He is unintelligible. You ask him a pointed question or uncover that he’s been misleading his vocal minority on a serious fact, he resorts to obfuscation and distractions that in his mind he thinks is brilliant. The number of times he says me and I in this monologue as also is notable.

Amen. Amen. Although I confess, I had to look up obfusication. It is perfect! “Distraction Dave”!!

I was born and raised in Destin but live out of state. Every time I read articles about this topic my blood boils. I support the repeal of the bill. If not repealed than ocean front owners do not come asking for federal /state funds to renourish sand, rebuild dunes due to storm damage and other unforeseen events so you can have your "beach backyard".

You do realize that repeal of the bill doesn’t then provide ANY customary use, right? the people in favor of CU who are going crazy like the ones above are asking people to get behind something with no replacement solution and no plan!!!!! Stay alert!!! Don’t be a sheep!!

I have come to the realization that this article is a major trigger for those that want CU, look at the responses. They cannot handle the open and honest criticism in the piece as presented. I've researched this significantly since the "meeting" on Saturday and now my opinion on CU has changed dramatically. Where I was a staunch supporter, based on info from the community at large, this now sheds a very different light on the issue and I'll admit, it is very, very complex. What is not complex, is that there are two that would seem to look to "profit" from this as each have ventures that could significantly benefit OR fail from it (Restaurant and a Legal Firm). There are normally three sides to every story, your side, my side and then "somewhere" in-between. Not sure where that is yet, but most-likely not with these two pushers of an apparent agenda. Sincerely, Paul P. (Please don't ask for my address or contact info., I don't want to be bothered). Thanks.

You are not alone in doing a 180 here recently. Thank you for being honest and forthright. Saturday was a circus on all fronts not just the commissioners. I was shocked at all the off the cuff unprepared statements from this group taking money to push customary use. They’re almost going to lose this winnable case for us - all by themselves.

You got that right! After that disaster of a meeting - I talked to several of my 30a friends and we are no longer supporting customary use. This group is in bed with the real estate and Democrat political groups. They sat up front like they owned the place. This circus is embarrassing our community.

Sarah - speaking of CU and affidavits - have you heard that signing an affidavit can backfire basically - people who signed are witnesses and supposedly can be sued by a BfO? Is this true do you know?

And people on probation are in double trouble! Never sign anything that admits breaking the law. Does anything really think an attorney's office should have been involved in collecting affidavits at all?

These two clowns and this group need to stay away from my town! I've told my town board about this. We don't need this crap. Keep it up there in Walton.

The entire state needs a Keep Out sign against Rauschkolb and Uhlfelder!

The small number of beachfront owners who have over several years systematically been taking quiet title, putting up no trespassing signs and lobbying the Florida legislature to kill our Customary Use ordinance are very upset because their little plan is being brought into the light. Now they want to go after those of us who have brought sunshine to their shenanigans. We need to work together to repeal HB631, restore Customary Use, and come together as a community and create a working plan that restores order to our beaches to the satisfaction of beachfront owners and all beachgoers while allowing the public to use the beach as they always have. That is the ONLY thing that will quickly communicate to the vacationing public that The Beaches Of South Walton is a welcoming place to come.

Legal Dave "taking quiet title". There is no such thing in law or fact. Conspiracy Dave: "the small number of beachfront owners have been systematically taking [public beach property]". There's no evidence of public land being stolen through any "quiet title" claim and the number of claims is very small compared to the number of property owners. As of 2016, there were 5 quiet title claims and thousands of beach property titles/deeds. Legal Dave: "restore Customary Use". Judge Rodgers: "the doctrine [of customary use] cannot exist absent judicial declaration." Nothing to restore. Media Dave: "come together as a community". After I've ripped it apart and rebuilt it to my liking. Control Dave: "create a working plan that restores order to our beaches to the satisfaction of beachfront owners and all beach goers". "There can be no compromise" --- Dave Rauschkolb. Dave Rauschkolb is not an elected official and has no legal authority or ability to dictate anyone "create a working plan" or "restore order". See how Dave works? He wants control. He wants to be the person to control the beaches of Walton county to restore order to "his" vision. I didn't say it --- he just said so right here.

You are right on point and continue to be. This article has "triggered" those wanting to steal others private property. It has been pushed out to many, many absentee owners that had no idea what was going on and finally started to upon their attendance at the mess of a county meeting where the only thing that was certain, was that Walton County needs a new county attorney...

This author got it right. As a 25 yr business owner on 30A, I publicly ask Dave and Daniel to stop this publicity stunt and false narrative. You are misleading the citizens with false facts, and it is you two who are so hungry for national attention, that are willfully hurting my business and everyone else’s in the name of your personal fame. Our families indeed have no problem using beaches in Walton County, as long as we don’t purposefully travel to a conflict strip of sand with a blowtorch and a camera. Your unethical abuse of the uninformed public is about to catch up to you. If people would just research the law, they’ll realize the truth about these false prophets. Publicly Attacking and terrorizing innocent people who disagree with your malicious methods, and promoting that behavior of your mob, is a fine, fine example for your children.

I agree completely. The fact that they drag their kids in front of the cameras to give interviews (both of these two guys) is horrible. Ulfelder’s wife standing there with him and their kids behind Sen Bill Nelson, while they tried to deny later they had anything to do with the event. They were greeting everyone like she was throwing a party at the beach. It was ridiculous video regardless of your “politics.”

Dirty politics at it's finest! Not Daniel or Dave.

Your "Dave and Dan" side show is what will destroy this area and push tourist out. Why not TRY to buy some of this "private" property. Why hasn't Walton County developed the new access across (conveniently) from a local restaurant? WHY???? Sat vacant all season??? The double D show and the elected officials of this once great county are the real problem. Vote them ALL OUT! Any do not patronize their businesses (Restaurants or Law Firms).


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nancy smith


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