MELBOURNE BEACH ― Sebastian Inlet State Park reopened to the public on May 8, with many restrictions in place to protect park visitors.

ROAM’s Surfside Grill and Adventures is the official concessionaire for Sebastian Inlet State Park. The company has been in Sebastian since 2017, with a 15-year contract to operate, through 2032.

ROAM’s contract is with the Florida Parks Service and Department of Environmental Protection to run the business side of operations at Sebastian Inlet State Park, not the park itself. ROAM runs tours and rentals of recreational equipment like kayaks and canoes, standup paddleboards, and pontoon boats. It also runs the Surfside Grill and special events.

We spoke with Dane White, ROAM co-owner and COO, to see how the COVID-19 shutdown affected the company, and what it is doing to ensure a safe reopening.

“This has been a very challenging time for us as a small business that runs primarily on cash flows,” Mr. White told Hometown News. “This took place during one of our peak seasons, March and April, during Spring Break. We’ve had a lot of loss in sales, and we had to let go all of our employees during that time frame, but thankfully we were able to reopen, and we’re starting to slowly rebuild as these phase-in strategies come into place.”

“It’s very scary. We’re a small business that runs really lean. Over the past two months, we’re down almost $175,000 in sales, and that’s tough to come back from, that’s a very huge hit for us.”

The company was able to receive a loan from the federal Personal Paycheck Program that allowed them to hire back about 13 staff that had been laid off due to the pandemic.

“The PPP loan that has allowed us to bring back all the staff is covering our payroll expenses for the next eight weeks, along with utilities and rent. It’s drastically lower than the numbers we would have had we been open, but it’s certainly a lifeline now that is keeping us open. It’s great to be open and to be able to give jobs to our staff, but it is scary looking ahead to the future. I do believe that we will make it through this, it’s just going to be very challenging.”

ROAM operates concessions in multiple state parks in south Florida. At press time, the Sebastian Inlet State Park was their only open location, as state parks where they operate in Broward and Miami-Dade remained closed.

Following guidance from the CDC, OHSA, the Florida DEP, and the Florida Park Service, ROAM has implemented more frequent cleaning and disinfecting of all indoor and covered areas, and recreation equipment including kayaks, paddleboards, pontoon boats, and canoes.

“Everything is being washed clean and disinfected between each use, to ensure park visitors’ safety. We’re using EPA-approved cleaners, degreasers, disinfectants on all equipment.”

Park guests renting equipment or entering any interior spaces for retail or food and beverage are required to wear masks and maintain a six foot distance.

“There’s a no-contact aspect with our staffing, with recreational equipment, everything is staged out there, ready to go for park visitors when they come to rent equipment,” Mr. White said. “It allows them to safely come in, do the rental waivers, and get out on the equipment.”

Mr. White says that about half of the people coming to rent equipment arrive with masks on.

“It’s around 50/50. The state parks themselves are not requiring park visitors to wear masks. Coming inside our buildings, we are requesting that they have masks on, or in areas when they’re within six feet of others. We do have masks available for sale if they come without one.”

The park itself is operating at 50% capacity. Surfside Grill, the park’s oceanfront eatery, is operating at a 25% reduced on-premise capacity. A few spread out tables are available inside, but more diners are ordering takeout to bring to a picnic table or other area of the park.

The company has installed sneeze guards at all cash registers, and marked floors in front of all registers to promote social distancing. Cashiers, recreation attendants, and food and beverage staff are required to wear gloves and masks.

“It helps provide the overall look and feel of safety, which is really important for park visitors right now,” Mr. White said. “We’ve had a pretty warm reception from everyone. Most everyone is just happy to be able to come back into the state park, and to swim by the cove or walk around the park, and come in a grab a bite and a drink.”

Another requirement is daily health screening for all of staff.

“The Florida Park Services provided us with standardized health screenings for all of our staff, including temperature checks, and all park management and park ranger staff that have to be completed daily,” Mr. White said. “If anybody has any symptoms related to COVID-19, they are sent home and asked to self-isolate for 14 days before they are able to resume work.”

“It is an interesting time,” Mr. White concluded. “Everyone including the Florida Park Service is trying to adapt and learn as things come about, and sometimes change by the hour. Everybody is trying to be as safe and responsible as they can. The Florida Park Service has done a great job working with us as concessionaires to make sure that all aspects of our operations are safe to reopen and operate.”

ROAM’s Bayside and Marina is located at 9502 S. Hwy A1A, Melbourne Beach, inside Sebastian Inlet State Park.

ROAM’s Surfside Grill and Adventures is located at 9700 S. Hwy A1A, Melbourne Beach.

For more information, call (321) 724-2112 or visit https://surfsidegrillandadventures.com/.

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