Southern Gentleman

Beaching by Firelight

By Pamela A. Keene  |  Photography courtesy of Going Coastal Cabanas and More; Nathan Struck/Fireside Outdoor

Florida entrepreneur offers an environmentally safe way to have bonfires on the beach without harming wildlife or the environment.

The glow of a fire at dusk with the sound of the waves lapping the shore can be the ultimate romantic evening. Now, with the help of Florida entrepreneur Kyle Cunningham, it’s a snap and makes you look like the most considerate guy in town.

“People often call us about being able to have bonfires on the beach, so we’ve found a great solution that’s also environmentally friendly,” says Cunningham, who operates Going Coastal Cabanas and more on Cape San Blas, Fla. “Our portable fire pits are the ideal way to have a bonfire on the beach without leaving a trace or disturbing the wildlife.”

The Going Coastal Cabanas team supplies the wood, sets up the pit, lights the fire, then returns and cleans the site.

Cunningham, who grew up in Kentucky has always liked the outdoors. About two years ago he moved to the beach for a change of scenery and so he could hike, kayak, fish, dive, and snorkel in the clear waters of the Gulf.

“I’ve never looked back,” says the 33-year-old who created his company late in 2019. “It’s perfect here – a small town on the water with so many activities. For so many people it’s a vacationer’s paradise, but for me, it’s home. I love it.”

He also works in real estate and vacation rentals. “Many of our clients wanted to know if they could have bonfires on the beach, so I looked into it. That’s when we discovered Pop-up Fire Pits, a compact, light-weight and portable way to have self-contained fires on the beach without all the hassle and left-over debris.

The all-aluminum Pop-up Fire Pit was invented for the Boy Scouts by Fireside Outdoor in Arizona. “Because of its compact size, portability and light weight, it’s popular with campers, kayakers and anyone who wants an instant, safe and environmentally sensible way to have a fire without intruding on the environment,” says Nathan Struck with Fireside Outdoor in Phoenix.

“This is a safe and environmentally friendly way to have a small-group evening on the beach, roast marshmallows and make S’mores and just relax. And you can even grill out with it, and what guy doesn’t like to be a grill master?” Cunningham asks. “It’s just perfect for people who want the joy of a bonfire without all the work.”

Leave No Trace

Across the nation, organizations are adopting ways to balance human activity with protecting the environment. Many are following the principles of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a 501(C)3 non-profit, founded in 1994. The group, based in Boulder, Colo., works to protect the environment and the outdoors in all 50 states through education and ongoing research.

Its mission is to minimize human impact on nature, wildlife, and the environment.

Local governments have taken the Leave No Trace mission to heart, particularly when it comes to seaside fires. While some Gulf Coast communities have enacted regulations that prohibit bonfires, others have created guidelines that allow fires during certain times of the year.

Officials in coastal Mississippi’s Harrison County, home to the nation’s longest man-made shoreline from Pass Christian to Biloxi, decided 15 years ago to create a way for humans and wildlife to co-exist.

“We realized that people wanted to enjoy the Gulf beaches and that included building bonfires,” says Chuck Loftis, director of the Harrison County Sand Beach Authority. “Until we put policies in place, our staff would stay busy cleaning up all the debris from beach bonfires and refilling holes from the fire pits.”

The county built 21 permanent fire pits along the shoreline. People can reserve them as much as six months in advance. “It has made a tremendous difference in how our visitors and wildlife get along, and it’s reduced the constant need to clean up fire debris,” he says.

Harrison County issues permits for using the fire pits. A $25 fee that’s non-refundable reserves a specific fire pit and ensures that users do proper clean-up afterwards.

“It’s been a great situation for us, especially in light of protecting our special wildlife along the coast,” says Loftis.

“We are strong advocates for Leave No Trace,” says Holley Muraco, director of research for the new Mississippi Aquarium opening this year in Gulfport. “We want people to enjoy our beaches, but it’s also crucial that we balance ecological systems’ needs with bringing travelers to the Gulf Coast. The biggest problem about bonfires was the debris that people left behind. With the county’s process, it has really helped protect our shorelines for the wildlife.”

Cunningham agrees.

“You can leave footprints and you can take away fond memories, but don’t leave any human evidence that you’ve enjoyed our coastline and the shores of the Gulf,” says Cunningham. “By using a Pop-Up Fire Pit or following local regulations about bonfires, it’s a win for everyone, including the wildlife. Plus, you’ll make a great impression with your partner as you enjoy a romantic fireside evening on the beach without all the hassle of actually having to build a fire, then clean up afterward.”

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