The Okaloosa Island Boat Basin has reopened after several renovations

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OKALOOSA ISLAND — Once considered run down and unsafe, the newly renovated island Okaloosa Island Boat Basin was reopened to the public on Thursday with extensive upgrades.

The Boat Dock is located at access #2 on the sound side off Caviar Drive on Okaloosa Island. The Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners, Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce and other local leaders celebrated its reopening with a ribbon cutting Thursday morning.

Okaloosa County officials held a ribbon cutting Thursday for the newly renovated Okaloosa Island Boat Basin on the healthy side of Santa Rosa Boulevard between Bluefish and Cavier drives.  The facility has public parking, an ADA-compliant kayak launch, and a dock where boaters can dock during the day.

Related coverage:Okaloosa Island Boat Dock Renovation Postponed to End of August

Learn more about the project:Okaloosa Island boat basin revamp nears completion with new boardwalk and fishing pier

“It’s such a great day for us. Mainly at the TDD offices, we’re promoting this destination as a premier beach destination, and now with this boat dock, we’re providing another access and adventure to water,” said Jennifer Adams, director of Okaloosa County’s Department of Tourism Development.

The Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners, Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce and other local leaders celebrated the reopening of the Okaloosa Island Boat Basin with a ribbon cutting Thursday morning.

The first version of the boat basin was built in the 1970s. The county leased the facility to the Okaloosa Island Leaseholders Association from approximately 1982 to 2018.

That’s when the county closed the then 18-slip basin due to its unsafe conditions.

“To be honest with you, the first three or four years of my first administration, I didn’t even know this existed,” District 2 Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel said. “I went down to see it, and realized it was county property and it was completely run down. There were pieces of it all over the place.”

Officials say the newly renovated basin will now allow visitors and locals to safely enjoy the waters on the north side of the island.  It is the first county-owned access facing the Santa Rosa Strait that has been developed.

Its dangers included a collapsing seawall, electrical problems, and a disrepaired wharf. Ketchel said there were also several abandoned boats in the area. The seagulls had ripped the stuffing off many of the cushions, leaving them tossed around the pool.

“I walked around with Jason Autrey, our director of public works, and said we had to do something about it,” Ketchel said.

Last December, the County Commission approved a contract with Dalton Brothers Inc. of Shalimar to upgrade the basin and cover much of the Sound side access into a 19-space parking lot with new pedestrian walkways and other changes.

"Before, you had to cross the neighborhood to find it," said District 2 Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel. "Now we have plenty of parking spaces."

“Before, you had to walk through the neighborhood to find it,” Ketchel said. “Now we have plenty of parking. People can park on Santa Rosa Boulevard. They can come here and have a picnic or just have a fun day and then get out on their boat and come back.”

The new basin also features an updated boardwalk that can accommodate eight 25-foot boats, a fishing pier, an ADA-accessible kayak/canoe boat launch, and a living shoreline of salt marsh and water. string weeds that will help slow shoreline erosion.

It will also serve as a place for the Petites Aventures courses. The program offers activities for children to explore in the Destin-Fort Walton Beach area, such as fishing, paddleboarding, stargazing or encountering sea creatures.

Last December, the County Commission approved a contract with Dalton Brothers Inc. of Shalimar to upgrade the basin and cover much of the Sound side access into a 19-space parking lot with new pedestrian walkways and other changes.

“All of these are very safe and supervised,” Ketchel said of the program. “It’s a wonderful way for kids to come here and learn about sea turtles and clams and the whole area. Just learn about the ecology of a beach community.”

The $1.1 million project was funded by tourism development tax revenues, which Adams said grew 74% last year, and a $150,000 Navigation Improvement Program grant. administered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“Last year we had a banner year,” Adams said. “It kept people working. It kept our stores and businesses open. On top of that, we increased visitor spending by 32%, which injected another $730 million back into the economy.”

The new basin also features an updated boardwalk that can accommodate eight 25-foot boats, a fishing pier, an ADA-accessible kayak/canoe boat launch, and a living shoreline of salt marsh and water. string weeds that will help slow shoreline erosion.

Although funded by tourists, Ketchel said the newly renovated facility will now allow visitors and locals to safely enjoy the waters on the north side of the island. It is the first county-owned access facing the Santa Rosa Strait that has been developed.

“It is beautifully landscaped. Much more accessible parking, with sidewalks, beautiful green spaces and a shoreline,” Ketchel said. “I’m so glad we were able to do this. It’s going to make a huge difference here on the island, and I think that’s something we can all be proud of.”

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