Buying your way onto a beach
Many people are surprised to find out that in some places you have to pay to walk onto a beach. They are further shocked to find out that in some places you can't even get to the beach (regardless of fee).
Focusing the discussion on the United States... that spectrum looks something like this.
FREE Starting with the left, there are many places in the country where beach access is considered a right. It's free. A person should be able to walk into a park for free... and walk to the beach for free. States like California, Texas and Florida fit loosely into this category. I say loosely because there are exceptions (one cannot just drive onto Hollister Ranch in central California). There is pressure in all three states to take this right away, that pressure is almost always from developers that want to sell what today is owned by the public.
FEE FOR PARKING Some towns charge to park at the beach. This can be an extention of a town's policy to charge people to park anywhere (many times forcing people to places that don't charge for parking... away from the towns), it can be state-based systems oriented around state park usage, etc.
FEE FOR BEACH ACCESS Noteworthy here is that this is almost always used in addition to a fee for parking. I was in Rhode Island a few years ago and paid $8 ($10 on weekends) to park at Narragansett Town Beach. I got out of my car and walked 30' and soon found myself paying again (daily $5.00 admission fee) to walk onto the sand. New Jersey is the same way, you literally cannot walk onto many of the beaches without paying (here is a complete list of their "beach badge" fee structure).
And then there is Maine.
NO BEACH ACCESS It's hard to believe that Maine beach access laws still exist in 2011. An estimated 90% of Maine's coast is private property. This equates to the public not having access, at any cost, to virtually the entire state of Maine's coast. Since the only way to ensure beach access is to buy a waterfront home... the price for beach access in Maine starts at $500K and goes up. More on Maine's "worst beach access in the nation" status here.
What can you do? Engage with your local chapter. If you have to pay to get to the beach or can't get to it at all, join us in fighting for that simple right.