The Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners will consider a proposal to reopen the popular East Pass Beach Area, affectionately known as “redneck beach”, at the foot of the Destin bridge that was closed by Eglin Air Force Base in 2020, during their regular meeting on Tuesday, January 16.
- The board will review a letter of intent to Eglin Air Force Base requesting permission for the county to invest in infrastructure improvements and assume management of the beach area, which has a history of public use spanning over 50 years.
The area in question is a stretch of beach near the west end of the Destin bridge on Okaloosa Island that was swapped from state ownership to Eglin AFB in the 1990s. According to the board’s agenda item, a 1988 Congressional act approving the land swap provided for continued public use as it existed at that time.
“For 30+ years, this use by the public was honored by the AFB, until the recent closure in 2020,” the agenda states.
Eglin AFB closed public access in May 2020, citing issues with trash, public safety, environmental impacts and a lack of infrastructure to support visitors. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic further strained resources.
The county and City of Destin had also recognized growing problems prior to the closure. In February 2020, the county commission voted unanimously to meet with Eglin AFB about assuming management of the area and addressing issues through infrastructure investments.
- “Although the area was owned and operated by the military, its usage was not really by the military and was almost 100% civilian usage. With no real infrastructure or resources for oversight, it proved difficult for the military to manage,” the board’s agenda explains.
Nearly 4 years later, post COVID and with new leadership at Eglin AFB willing to revisit the closure, the county now intends to follow through on those previous efforts and re-engage with military partners.
If approved, the letter of intent would be the first step toward the county developing a master plan for improvements such as parking, boardwalks, trash cans, and bathrooms. The county proposes hiring lifeguards, park rangers and providing other services to maintain the area for public recreation.
An October 2023 meeting between officials laid groundwork for the proposal. Commissioner Mel Ponder, Destin Council Member Teresa Hebert and county staff met with Eglin AFB to discuss reopening and improving access.
The take-away from the meeting and the other efforts to date is that this is a project that could be a win-win project for Eglin and the community, which in turn leads to the required letter of intent to Eglin to start this process, according to the county.
The site also has potential to serve as a trailhead for the county’s developing 12-foot wide pedestrian and bike path network.
- “With Beasley Park on one end and a park area at the foot of the Destin bridge on the other end, it will allow families from either side of the trail to drive, park, and safely ride their bikes on the trail, walk at a park, visit the beach, and have lunch,” the agenda says.
If commissioners approve sending the letter of intent, the next steps would involve negotiating a formal agreement giving the county oversight of the beach area. A future agreement would come forward that would have specific costs for infrastructure, ongoing manpower requirements (and similar expenses), complete with identified funding sources.
The board will consider the item during its 1:30 p.m. meeting on Tuesday at the county administration building in Shalimar.
Here are some of the types of proposed improvements we could see:
- Barriers to environmental Area
- Trash Removal/Control/Policing
- Law enforcement/Park Ranger presence/ substation
- Defined walkways/boardwalks
- County Maintenance
- Cameras in parking area/other
- Improved Parking (paved ADA)
- Fencing where necessary
- Separation from military rec area
- Turtle safe lighting
- Educational information
- Turn Lanes
- Mini Shelters
- Safety and Beach Signage
- Organized Parking (+ADA)
- Entrance Sign