(2009) Pensacola, Fl-
Since Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Dennis in 2005 the road to Fort Pickens has been closed to the public and is now scheduled to reopen around Memorial Day, unless the weather postpones construction.
Fort Pickens had many attendees and “in the last year of full operation in 2003 it had a 228, 334 vehicle count,” said Sally Lewis from the National Seashore.
The road to Fort Pickens had been previously damaged by hurricanes, so this time the National Seashore and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have built the road differently considered about a different mode of transportation.
Last August the National Seashore and DOT gave a survey to the residents in the area concerning their opinion on transportation from a ferry system.
“The survey concluded with a yes,” said Richard Clark Chief, Science and Resource Management of Gulf Island Seashore. “It is a feasible infrastructure with funding for a pier and passenger service,”
The alternative mode of transportation is not a definite project.
“This ferry service would possibly be used in conjunction with the road open and will run when the road is closed,” Clark said. “With this still in theory, the ferry could have multiple stops along the Gulf Coast with a stop at Fort Pickens.”
Robby Woodwhitfield, from the Santa Rosa County Fire Department, and his friend Ken Coulter, from the Okaloosa County Fire Department, did not take place in the survey given last August.
Woodwhitfield and Coulter are both very interested in the idea of another transportation to Fort Pickens.
“It does not seem feasible to have another road or bridge built to Fort Pickens,” Woodwhitfield said. “It would just be way out of the way.”
Woodwhitfield and Coulter may be in favor of the ferry service since it may keep the area open and accessible.
“The ferry service will be nice, but you can’t get as many people out there as quickly,” said Robert Young Director, program for the study of developed shorelines at Western Carolina University. “The road should be sacrificial with the cheapest road, and be least environmental damaging.”
Clark said that the new road will be more compatible with the environment.
“The primary difference in the design of the road is that it is at a lower elevation, sitting at sea level,” Clark said. “The idea is that the water is able to wash over the road, so the road wont act as a barrier any more. The area is vulnerable, and it is built in such a way that the costs for repair will be in the least.”
Even though it is more compatible with the environment, sea turtle season is just about to start and the road is still in their habitat.
“The road should still be opened even though it’s in their habitat,” Coulter said. “There should be a balance between their habitat and humans. I don’t know how we can do that, but we need to find a happy median.”
There might indeed be a happy median, the National Seashore has a program to watch and monitor the sea turtles and their nest.
“The sea turtle program will revert to normal operation, with the park and volunteers starting around May 1,” Clark said. “ The program will confirm and monitor nest very closely. This program has been in operation even when the road was closed and will continue to operate when the road opens.”
Clark said when Fort Pickens opens, the hours of operation will be from dawn to dusk and possibly incremental, depending on issues with the weather.
Even though the area was hit badly by Hurricane Ivan and Dennis, there are no other repairs to the island.
“National parks give us only a few of the natural shorelines left in the United States,” Young said.
The park is there to preserve and protect, and doesn’t intervene with the natural system. The island will fix itself through a normal process, and the National Seashore is letting it mend itself.
This is “not an artificial island, its all natural,” Clark said.