Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Paddling from Penacola Beach

Photo courtesy of the Florida Memory Project

It seems the two Pensacola Beach roads leading east through the U.S. Park Service's 'Opal Beach' to Navarre Beach and west along the Gulf to Fort Pickens are unlikely to be fixed until late next year. Writes PNJ reporter Derek Pivnik earlier this week:
Gulf Islands National Seashore Superintendent Jerry Eubanks said road design work is scheduled to be finished by March, but it could take up to eight months after that to award the contract and complete construction.

"It could be the latter part of the year (before the roads reopen)," Eubanks said. "We're taking it one step at a time."

Eubanks held off beginning repairs until Nov. 30 -- the end of a record hurricane season. Both roads were severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan on Sept. 16, 2004. County Road 399, also known as J. Earle Bowden Way, reopened briefly before it was damaged again by Hurricane Dennis in July.
For most of next year, including the 2006 hurricane season, that leaves the Bob Sikes toll bridge over Santa Rosa Sound as the only escape route for Pensacola Beach residents, visitors, and construction workers. Alternative ways to leave the island include... well, drifting away on a float, swimming, boating and, if you're really adventurous, maybe hang-gliding or a helicopter.

Bring your own 'copter.

As for visiting Fort Pickens itself, it "could be partially open to the public by spring," we are told, but "likely will be accessible only by boat" according to Rick Clark of the local National Park Service office.

Pivnik quotes Clark as saying, "A ferry may be employed to shuttle people back and forth, but nothing has been completed."

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