Spring break doesn’t start and end in Baldwin County so much as it starts up and winds down. While there may be some families or groups of college kids out on the beaches this week, the days when nearby universities and local high schools were all out on break at once are over for the year.
Gulf Shores’ infamous spring break alcohol ban on the beaches ended Monday, though we don’t recommend throwing a keg party there in celebration. Gulf Shores plans to review the need for the ban every year, but these numbers make a strong argument for the future:
• Arrests in Gulf Shores last year from March 3 through April 16: 633;
• Arrests this year: 370.
“I think it was a lesser crowd,” Gulf Shores Police Lt. Bill Cowan said. “There were still plenty of people here, but I think the alcohol ban for the weeks of spring break had the effect of letting people know that we’re not going to be the college party town. We’re not interested in being the college party town. I think that helped.”
When Panama City Beach got so out of control authorities there had to take steps to make it less attractive for the hard-partying college crowd, Pleasure Island leaders feared they would move west. And when some of them did migrate last year, the underage drinking and trashing of some local beaches resulted in Gulf Shores’ temporary alcohol ban as well as a general crackdown on less-than-family-friendly behavior.
While Orange Beach didn’t implement an alcohol ban, Mayor Tony Kennon saw great improvement this year.
“From our perspective it was better than last year,” Kennon said. “We had fewer numbers of unsupervised or unchaperoned spring breakers, which I think is a good thing, or we had a lot more kids who came down here who knew how to behave.”
Kennon also thinks private condo owners and property managers are doing a better job of screening renters.
“Our owners and the folks who rent were very responsible in vetting who was coming,” he said. “They understand how detrimental turning into a no-holds-barred college spring break is to our brand and to our overall business model. So they did a really good job of making sure that these kids were either supervised or they were older and behaved.”
Cowan said a couple of weeks of chilly, rainy weather may also have reduced beach crowds simply by keeping people indoors regardless of what they doing.
The scariest incident occurred late on the night of April 1, when someone fired shots near The Hangout in the area of the public beach in Gulf Shores. No one was injured and Cowan said Monday police have a warrant out for a suspect’s arrest.
“Obviously, anytime something like that happens in such a high-profile place, it puts a bad spin on things,” Cowan said. But the incident also let police show they mean business in identifying a suspect.
“We’re going to find whoever you are and we’re going to put you in jail for behaving like that on our very prime beachfront. Our beachfront is special to us, and we’re not going to tolerate that.”
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