A sign on Route 131, on the St. George peninsula, has proclaimed “Welcome to Martinsville; Come Again” for as long as anyone can remember. And for all that time, the public has used Martinsville Beach. But then it was gated off.

Now, a citizens group in St. George has filed a complaint in court claiming that the electronic gate at the private sand beach unfairly cuts off public access.

The basis of the suit filed in Knox County Superior Court by the Friends of St. George is that under law, the public is entitled to continue to use the beach because it has done so for decades.

The gate was installed a year ago by Amy and David Morey of Martinsville, who purchased property abutting the beach and their home. The gate opens only with an access code. The narrow dirt road to the beach crosses the Moreys’ land, and is the right of way for several property owners, the Friends group said. The gated road also leads to privately owned Mosquito Head, which is ringed by a hiking trail the public has been permitted to use for many years.

The Hanemann family, which has owned Mosquito Head since 1913, is reportedly sympathetic to the Friends group.

The Moreys – who have declined all comment in the past – bought the land in question from Jack Hupper of New York, whose family had owned it for generations and apparently allowed public access for most, if not all, of that time. The property preserves the view for the Moreys and gives them their own beach access. The complaint names the Moreys and Hupper, and it says the gate violates the traditional recreational use of the beach, a long crescent of sand with a view of a stone house on Mosquito Island.

The Moreys listed two of their three beachfront lots for sale, for $750,000 and $850,000. The Friends group is represented by the law firm Eaton Peabody of Brunswick.

– Steve Cartwright