From 1945 to 1987, Camp Helen State Park operated as a company resort for the employees of an Alabama textile mill.



Keeping the past in mind, state officials now are planning for Camp Helen’s future, which they’ve proposed to include an expansion of recreational development within the park’s 182 acres.



Representatives with Florida State Parks presented a draft unit management plan for the park at a public meeting recently, providing blueprints for managing the park over the next 10 years.



“We think that Camp Helen has a lot of recreation potential,” said Albert Gregory, assistant director for Florida State Parks. “Camp Helen is a state recreation area where we see a lot of opportunities.”



The proposed conceptual land use plan includes the development of a 10-to-12 cabin group camping area, two canoe and kayak launches, a boat dock, a picnic pavilion area and a new park administration building with interpretive exhibits, restrooms and a concession space. It also calls for additional parking areas, trails, boardwalks and access roads at the park.



If approved, the projects would be prioritized based on the amount of funding available, Gregory said.



The first management plan for Camp Helen, located on the Bay-Walton County border, was adopted in 2003 and included a long-term sublease with Gulf Coast State College for about 45 acres of the property. GCSC originally intended to develop an environmental education center within the park but has since abandoned those plans, prompting the state to reassess the land use plan.



“They decided not to pursue the campus, so the property came back to us,” Gregory said. “They’ve surrendered their sublease and now we’ve developed this new plan for the park.” 



The largest area of proposed development would be the group camping site, which would be situated at the former GCSC sublease area in the northwest corner of the park.



“The northern part of the park is essentially undeveloped at this time,” Gregory said. “We felt that the small, modest group camp that we proposed is far less intensive than the Gulf Coast campus would have been.”



Gregory said the additional facilities would be designed to complement other recreational aspects of the park.



“We don’t want to overdevelop,” he said.  “We don’t want to develop it so much that we’re loving it to death.”



Once public comments are collected, the plan will be presented to an advisory group of representatives from environmental groups, recreational user groups, adjoining land owners and public agencies for input. 



The plan then will be re-examined by state park officials and submitted to the Division of State Lands for review. Final adoption will be considered by the Florida Acquisition and Restoration Council in the spring.  



The plan also includes management plans for the park’s waterways, imperiled and exotic species, vegetation, cultural resources and shorelines.



“The plan is really a blueprint for the park,” Gregory said. “It addresses all the facets of managing a state park.”



WALKING TOUR SET:



The monthly first Saturday Walking History Tour of Camp Helen State Park will begin at 10 a.m. Please meet the tour guide in the Visitor’s Center.