The Florida Park Service has the opportunity to purchase a tract of land on the southwest side of Little Redfish Lake, but needs funds from a Natural Resource Damage Assessment grant to be able to afford to do so.
The land is adjacent to Grayton Beach State Park and valued at $5 million. A stipulation of the NRDA grant is the public must have access to the land.
Some land owners on the other side of the lake oppose the plan that would go to public use, but if the state's plan doesn't allow access they won't qualify for the NRDA grant and if they don't qualify for the grant they can't buy the land.
If that happens, the property would likely sell to a private entity that could develop it as they wish within land-use code.
The land is partially developed with some paved roads.
The early plan, if purchased, is to put in a walking trail, a boardwalk, a kayak launch, observation deck, a 24-space parking area, and create 12 tent campsites.
According to the DEP, Walton County would fund the boardwalk access to Little Redfish Lake, a new paddling launch, observation deck, parking area, restrooms, create tent campsites, and construct a bathhouse for tent campers.
However, Tourist Development Council Director of Communication David Demerest said the only role the TDC has in this is that if all goes through, the state park system may approach the TDC for funds to support developing the necessary infrastructure of trails, parking, bathrooms, etc.
"At that point, we would consider their plan and consider what if any funding would be appropriate, which would have to be voted on and approved by the Board of County Commissioners before going forward," said Demerest. "There has been some talk that this is a TDC project but that's not the case. Whatever happens, it's a long way from us becoming involved."
Not everyone is happy about the proposed purchase and possible changes, however.
A public meeting was held last Tuesday night with a brief presentation with DEP staff on hand.
"It boils down to somebody from Walton County, maybe the Tourist Development Council or management, went to Parks and Recreation in Tallahassee and said we want to put in a 24-car parking lot and a long boardwalk down to Redfish Lake," said Santa Rosa Beach resident Celeste Cobena. "There is an armed gate on that side and if it's opened, people can come and go as they please with no ranger to keep an eye out. That's not appropriate."
Cobena doesn't believe there should be more recreation on the west side of the park as that would be recreational sprawl and should be contained on one end.
"That area is a big coastal scrub that's not in the hands of the state park and it will be developed. We need places where the natural community can exist. We should not degrade the welfare of this. The majority of people moved here because of our natural resources," said Cobena. "The proposal should be denied. It's public lands held in trust by trustees. Some paddlers were at the meeting who said they would not use the boardwalk and launch."
Little Redfish Lake is known to be inhabited by alligators.
"There are several generations of eagles using the area to hunt and fish and every inch of the land will be used. Don't let recreation take over conservation," she said.
If the public has questions, email Matthew.Allen@dep.state.fl.us or call 267-8300.
The public is invited to submit comments to the Division of Recreation and Parks at firstname.lastname@example.org until June 28.