By Angela Spears
First Coast News
JACKSONVILLE BEACH, FL -- The opening of the Beaches signals the unofficial start to Summer on the First Coast.
Jacksonville Beach leaders expect anywhere from 50-65,000 people to converge on the beach. The 58th Annual Beaches Festival and Parade is this weekend. There are many activities planned for the whole family.
You can build a Sandcastle. The contest starts at 8:10 Saturday morning on the beach in front of the Sea Walk Pavilion. The big event is the festival. It runs from Noon - 10 P.M. on Saturday and Noon - 7 Sunday. You can't forget the parade at The Opening of the Beaches. You'll see all types of floats and bands. The parade runs along 1st Street North from 4th Avenue to 11th Avenue, then east to 2nd Street and south to Beach Boulevard. It's Sunday at 2 P.M.
Thousands of people will be having fun and enjoying the water. Remember, safety first, especially when it comes to children. Drowning is the number two cause of death for kids under 5. It's important to know how to swim before you get in the water. The American Red Cross offers swimming lessons to people of all ages. Officials have some tips to help keep you safe. You should swim near a lifeguard. They are on duty at Jax Beach year 'round. Christian Smith, Spokesperson with the Red Cross, says you should also swim with a buddy, have a parent present and wear protective gear (that includes goggles, footwear and sun screen). The sun will be out, so don't forget to drink plenty of water.
When you are in the ocean, beware of rip currents. They can pull you out to sea. If you get caught in one, stay calm and swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the rip currents. This year, extra safety precautions are in place. Lifeguards at the beach and the Jacksonville Ocean Rescue Division adopted the Department of Environmental Protection's Coastal Management Program Flag System. The flags are warning signs about conditions at the beach.
There are four colored flags. Two red flags mean the water is closed to the public. One red flag means there is a high hazard with high surf and strong currents. A yellow flag means there is medium hazard with moderate surf and currents. One green flag means a low hazard with calm conditions. The last flag, a purple one, means there is dangerous marine life on the beach, like stingrays or jellyfish. The flags are at eight locations on the beach.
Be on the look out for those flags. Lifeguards say a yellow flag will probably be posted Saturday. The goal is to have fun! One more thing to keep in mind as you kick off the unofficial start to Summer, parking at the beach will be tight this weekend. If you can, it may be best to walk or bike to Beach.