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Okaloosa County and Mary Esther team up for new $3 million waterfront park, kayak launch

On Tuesday, August 15, 2023, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved an agreement to purchase a waterfront property on Cristobal Road in Mary Esther for a new public […]

On Tuesday, August 15, 2023, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved an agreement to purchase a waterfront property on Cristobal Road in Mary Esther for a new public park, as well as enter into an interlocal agreement with the city to partner on the multi-million dollar project.

According to Deputy County Administrator Craig Coffey, the county was initially approached by Mary Esther’s City Manager about teaming up on potential projects within the city limits. 

When the 0.77-acre property along Highway 98 went on the market, the county recognized its potential and moved to secure it, with the support of the district commissioner, Trey Goodwin. 

The parcels, plus the adjoining 28ft city right-of-way, are located on a cove historically called Lorretta Haven near what is believed to have been the former Cristobal Landing shipping dock. Its high elevation and existing live oaks make it suitable for park development, according to the county.

Under the plans, the park would offer parking, bathrooms, a fishing pier, non-motorized boat launch, seawall and dockage. Across the main channel are the spoil islands, with a large shallow water area on the south side of them that are ideal for fishing, paddle boarding and canoe/kayak areas without high speed boat traffic.

  • A commercial property next door is looking to rent kayaks and paddleboards, creating a complementary neighbor, according to the county.

The total $3 million project budget will be split evenly between the county and city, using tourism revenue already collected from the newly expanded bed-taxing district. The county intends to purchase the property for $1.3 million, pending a favorable appraisal, with an additional $50,000 budgeted for standard closing costs.

According to the approved interlocal agreement, the county will take the lead on park development through completion before handing over ownership and day-to-day operations to Mary Esther. The Mary Esther City Council unanimously approved the agreement on August 7.  

Coffey said the new waterfront park will help address the high demand for public water access from both tourists and residents as the area’s populations continue to grow. Water activities remain top draws for visitors to the area and are equally sought after by locals.

  • “Free and open public access locations continue to be a major priority for our community, both for tourism and for our residents,” Coffey wrote. “As more people come to the area, the demand on these resources has likewise increased.”

The property purchase and park plans align with the county’s long-range vision for tourism growth and economic development. Officials believe the project has the potential to boost recreational opportunities in Mary Esther while also improving quality of life for local residents.

According to the approved plans, the county will move quickly on acquisition and development. The purchase agreement requires closing by August 31, contingent upon completion of the property appraisal.

One Response

  1. How many small watercraft are likely to be added to that area? They are more than likely going to go to the spoil islands in larger numbers. That means way more trash in and near the water. It adds additional ventures onto the AF property nearby. Those kayaks and paddleboards will be in peril every time one the drunken boaters fly through that area. On the plus side, OCSD will have to patrol the waterway there in support of county park safety. Since water quality will be tested by the Health Department, bacteria levels will be monitored more closely. The neighbors won’t be bothered by duck hunters firing so close by anymore. With any luck, one of the neighbors will open a kayak and paddleboard rental and cafe.

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