Isle of Wight nixes adding boat slips at Tyler’s Beach, for now

Published 4:47 pm Monday, May 6, 2024

Isle of Wight County’s plans to build additional boat slips at Tyler’s Beach have hit a snag.

The county removed debris and derelict vessels in 2020 and created a master plan that called for replacing the bulkhead and boat ramp, and adding 10 finger slips, or narrow docks that would extend perpendicular from the two main docks.

The Army Corps of Engineers is presently responsible for dredging, or removing sediment buildup, from the harbor and last did so in 2015 at a cost of just under $789,000. The Corps, upon reviewing Isle of Wight’s preliminary design plans for Tyler’s Beach, told county officials on April 26 that Isle of Wight would need to assume responsibility for dredging the harbor if the project were to be approved as-is, as the Corps’ dredging equipment would no longer be able to maneuver in and out of the basin with the finger slips in place.

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Isle of Wight County supervisors, by informal consensus on May 2, gave Parks and Recreation Director Mike Frickanisce the go-ahead to have the Tyler’s Beach plans redrawn without the finger slips, which Frickanisce estimated would cost roughly $8,400. Per a phased plan Frickanisce proposed, the county will redesign the docks to potentially allow the finger slips to be added in the future. If additional funding comes available, the county will reevaluate the prospect of taking over responsibility for dredging.

Frickanisce said the Corps of Engineers “is actually very excited about” the finger slips.

“The No. 1 purpose for overseeing this particular harbor and a lot of other harbors like this is commercial, so it supports the watermen,” Frickanisce said. “Adding 10 slips greatly increases the capacity of mooring.”

“If we go with the plan that we’ve just outlined, perhaps get one more dredging, that probably buys us a pretty good amount of time into the future so that when we did put those finger piers into there we’d have a pretty good lifespan before it had to be dredged,” said Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.

Tyler’s Beach has a storied connection with commercial watermen.

“Every time I talk to them, they like to remind me that it’s a dying industry and they’re trying to keep it alive,” Frickanisce said.

According to Helen Haverty King’s book “Historic Notes on Isle of Wight County, Virginia,” Tyler’s Beach was settled by former slaves of Timothy Tynes, who upon his 1802 death willed them their freedom and land along the James River. Until World War II, a majority of Tyler’s Beach residents were watermen who depended on the James and its tributaries for their livelihood.

The area, located 8 miles from Smithfield near the Isle of Wight-Surry county line, became known as Tyler’s Beach in the 1920s when Nettie Tyler bought 10 acres. Isle of Wight has owned and operated Tyler’s Beach as one of two public beaches in the county since 1967. The other is Morgarts Beach.