The Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners has approved the purchase of approximately 412 acres of undeveloped land along the Shoal River in Crestview, with plans to develop the area into an ecotourism destination that will benefit both residents and visitors.
- The wooded acreage, located just south of Poverty Creek Road on the north side of the Shoal River, is owned by both the Day Family Trust and Haiseal Timber.
- The purchase price is $1.825 million.
“As the projects are developed and come on line, they will each add something unique to our tourism product, and will secondarily provide quality of life benefits for our residents,” the agenda item detailing the land purchase said.
Okaloosa County has been acquiring various properties on and off the water to diversify their tourism products.
The area in Crestview has been targeted by the county for ecotourism expansion to draw more tourists north and build on existing investments like the Crestview Welcome and Adventure Center. County officials said the scenic woodlands and more than one mile of Shoal River frontage present prime opportunities for nature-based recreation.
- “With tourism infrastructure in its infancy in the north end of the County, we have planted our tourism flag with the Crestview Welcome and Adventure Center on the south side of Crestview,” wrote Deputy County Administrator Craig Coffey. “Recently, the opportunity to acquire a large amount of property became available in an area identified as a good location for such an undertaking.”
The parcel contains upland areas and elevations that fall from Poverty Creek Road down to the river. Existing structures, including a house and outbuildings formerly used as a residence, can be repurposed as part of the new tourist destination.
Coffey told commissioners the property could facilitate uses like camping, trails, archery, river access and passive recreation.
- “This property has large, mature trees and provides a good example of the beauty of the north end woodlands,” Coffey said. “This property would likely not be ideal for major festivals/events due to the sewer limitations and restricted vehicle access.”
But he said opportunities exist to expand recreation lands to the south of the river, where the infrastructure needed for larger gatherings can be developed. Officials will also explore extending the designation of the Shoal River as a state paddling trail beyond the currently mapped section between State Roads 90 and 85.
“There’s the ability to have a large acreage here that can be a game changer for the whole county. 412 acres by itself, that’s substantial,” Coffey told commissioners.
Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel said she is “very excited” about the purchase and its potential to facilitate activities like camping, cabins, paddle sports and walking trails that showcase the area’s natural assets beyond its renowned beaches.
- “This is exactly the ecotourism that we want to showcase. It’s not just about the beaches here. We’ve got all this beautiful area around the Shoal River and Blackwater and just so many beautiful parks,” Ketchel said.
The project also comes with some words of caution from Commissioner Nathan Boyles, who said it’s important for officials to have a “big picture concept” guiding land acquisition and build out a “constellation” of complementary sites.
Boyles said he wants to ensure taxpayer-funded facilities don’t compete with existing businesses, and encouraged bringing industry representatives into future planning conversations. He also called for the county to focus on environmental preservation and restoration.
- “From my perspective, it is important that we maintain a focus of environmental preservation and environmental restoration,” Boyles said. “I think there’s some opportunities for us to restore some habitat in addition to preserving some.”
Funding for the purchase ($1.825 million) and initial master planning (budgeted for $75,000) will come from the county’s Tourist Development tax. The purchase is contingent upon favorable appraisals for the property purchase prices.
The tourists development council (TDC) unanimously endorsed the Shoal River property plans in a meeting last month. County staff said they anticipate bringing additional land on the south side of the river into public ownership in the future to expand the park.