The pop-up sandbar beach at Craney Island in Portsmouth is off-limits


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Depending on the tides, a sandbar reveals itself in the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth. Boaters and jet skiers dock their craft while bathers enjoy frisbees on the beach and wading in the shallow water.

Norfolk-based realtor Vic Bosak loves this spot in Hampton Roads.

“One of the greatest things about where we live is our proximity to water — I’ve been able to discover parts of Hampton Roads that people don’t get to see.”

There’s one problem. The spit is part of the Craney Island federal installation that dates back to 1812.

“It’s an active construction site. Everything there is was dredged from the channel as sediment and we manage it here as a facility,” said Keith Lockwood, the chief of operations for the Norfolk District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Army Corps of Engineers has launched an effort to educate those who use this pop-up beach. The corps admits no signs are posted since the land surfaces and then becomes submerged with the tides.

Engineers are looking into ways to install no trespassing signs that are tide-proof.

The temporary beach looks inviting, but officials say this sand is not safe because it may contain glass, old munitions, or other debris from river beds and other waterways that have been dredged.

Humans on the sandbar also pose a threat to 170 species of birds who call Craney Island home.

“Some of these birds actually utilize the same sandbar that the boaters are trying to come up on. Any human disturbance will displace and prevent them from having successful nests,” said Lockwood.  

Bosak says most boaters respect the water and will comply.

“Knowing that now that it’s federal land and against the rules to be there, you won’t find me there anytime in the future,” said Bosak.

Once the educational period is over, the corps, with backup from Virginia Marine Police and the U.S. Coast Guard, will charge violators with trespassing on federal property.

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