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Okaloosa approves $1.65 million expansion of Veterans’ Park, adding 4 new women statues

The Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve Phase II of the Veteran’s Park project, adding four new statues and expanding the trail system to honor more […]

The Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve Phase II of the Veteran’s Park project, adding four new statues and expanding the trail system to honor more women who served in the U.S. armed forces. 

  • The $1.65 million project will further develop the 20-acre Veteran’s Park site, building on the existing memorial wall, flags, statues and walking trail that opened in November 2021 for Phase I. 

“People love this park. It is a sacred and almost spiritual experience to walk in the park,” said Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel. “Not just because of the statues, but because of the land itself. There’s twenty and a half acres of absolutely exquisite land that we hope to cherish and nourish and continue to have for many years to come. We need to preserve Old Florida, and that’s part of what this is.”

The new phase will add a looping trail on the east side of the current trail, matching the phase I materials and design. Four new statues will also be installed along the new trail to honor additional women veterans. 

Expansion plans for the park (Okaloosa County)

Deputy County Administrator Craig Coffey told commissioners he hopes to use the original firms, Mott MacDonald for design and sculptor Jon Hair for the statues, to maintain continuity from the first phase.

  • Coffey said costs for the new statues are estimated around $90,000 each, with a total budget of $435,000 for the four statues including plaques and shipping. 
  • The trail expansion carries a $1.215 million price tag. 

Timing is unknown at this time, but it could take approximately 18 months to implement and could be ready for opening/unveiling Veteran’s Day (Nov) 2024 or Woman’s Veterans Day (June) 2025, according to Coffey.

The new wall monument at Veterans Park on Okaloosa Island honoring women who have served (Okaloosa County Public Information Office)

The park memorializes women who served in the U.S. military throughout history, with phase I featuring honorees from the Revolutionary War through the war in Afghanistan: 

  • Margaret Corbin
  • Cathay Williams
  • Lenah Higbee
  • Jacqueline Cochran
  • Jonita Bonham
  • Sharon Lane
  • Leigh Ann Hester
  • Nasima Dada

“This is phase two, but I will tell you tonight, there will be a phase three, there will be a phase four probably, there will be an ask on this that’s going to go forward for years to come,” Ketchel said. “Because people love this park and they want to see it grow. We have so many women that we can recognize that just have done remarkable things. This is a legacy project that this commission should be proud of for the rest of their lives and for their grandchildren to come.”

Coffey said the Women’s Veterans Monument Committee began meeting six months ago to start planning the next phase and will bring recommendations for the four new statue honorees to the commission for consideration at a future meeting.

  • “The memorial continues to grow in its notoriety and resound as people discover it and bring their children to hear these stories of bravery and heroism,” he said. 

Commissioner Paul Mixon said he supports the project itself but wants to ensure other needed infrastructure improvements are not neglected, like the county’s “living shoreline” erosion control project that has been delayed.

“Here’s my concern. The timeline,” said Mixon. “That living seashore still has not been done. So there’s been no hardening efforts to pursue protecting all of this infrastructure that we’re spending so much to put in.”

  • Coffey responded that his understanding was the living shoreline bid process was close to moving forward after previous holdups.

The project will utilize tourist development tax funds, also known as “bed tax” revenue collected on short-term rentals and lodging in the county. Some private donations were also announced at the meeting to support the effort.

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