A beach is defined as a strip of sand or gravel along the shore separating land from water. To gain beach designation, this strip must extend 25 feet in width between the dune or bank and landward of the mean high tide or normal high water. Due to the forces of nature, most beaches do not maintain a constant shoreline profile. Virginia's tidal beaches are predominantly on the lower Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Beaches on the Bay and on lower sections of rivers tend to be sandy, while those on the upper reaches of the rivers may have a thin layer of sand over a mud bottom. Other beaches may be sand and gravel bars along river corridors and manmade beaches created on lakes and ponds.
The statewide beach inventory shows approximately 2,047 acres of beach available for public access, including beaches in coastal areas, as well as those located on lakes, streams and rivers west of the fall line. Man-made and natural beaches, including those enhanced by beach nourishment, are also included.
Standards for beach design for public access are available in the Chesapeake Bay Area Public Access Technical Assistance Report, published in October 1990, and available from the DCR. Non-coastal beaches are not as fast to change as those beaches located along the Atlantic Ocean, the Chesapeake Bay or the Commonwealth's tidal tributaries.
The 2006 Virginia Outdoor Survey indicates that 44 percent of the Commonwealth's population sunbathe and relax at the beach. Sunbathing at beaches is ranked as the fourth most popular outdoor recreation activity in Virginia. There is much less public access to beaches than needed as much of the suitable beachfront in the Tidewater, Virginia area is private or in military use.