District 5 County Commissioner Cindy Meadows held a community meeting/workshop Monday night at the Coastal Branch Library to discuss the expansion of Helen McCall Park.
The park currently has batting cages, picnic tables, two baseball, a T-ball and softball field, and a soccer/multi-use field. It currently has one restroom and one concession stand on its 29.2 acres.
If the applied for $200,000 grant is received, plans are to add another parking lot, picnic area, restroom and concession stand, renovate the existing soccer field, install irrigation and new sod, renovate its playground and add new equipment. Grants Coordinator Angie Biddle said the estimated cost of the project is $207,000.
Future plans for the park also include the installation of an additional parking lot, call box, concession stand and additional restrooms. When this renovation is complete, there will be no more portable toilets, said Parks and Recreation's Brad Alford.
Biddle said the park is used every day for Little League and youth football from July to November.
Josh Foreman said his children practice at Helen McCall four days a week with the Panhandle Youth Football Association. He said a traveling soccer team also makes use of the field, and he estimates as many as 250 people can be found there on a Saturday.
To help ease traffic flow to the complex, Meadows said the county is also attempting to acquire an entrance to the park off County Road 393S. Currently, the park’s entrance is on Moll Drive.
"Soccer is booming here," said Alford, "and so is football. At Helen McCall, fields have had to be shared and soccer is hard on a field."
"The football field is overused," added Foreman. "I am glad to see things moving forward."
Meadows said the park is seeing more kids than were expected.
At present, refurbishing is all that can be done to help the park as it is 95 percent built out and bordered mostly by wetlands and a state park. However, Meadows said the possibility exists that the owner of property that borders the park on the northwest side will sell a piece of his land.
In addition, Meadows said the county is looking for 25-30 acres to build another complex similar to the one at Hammock Bay in Freeport or Frank Brown Park in Panama City Beach, as the master plan calls for a sports facility in South Walton. A public meeting will be held to discuss those plans on Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. at the South Walton Courthouse Annex. Land currently being considered for this is located on U.S. Highway 98, three miles east of Emerald Coast Middle School and west of St. Joe's Commerce Park. This property consists of 30 acres and borders a canal. It would be close to the new high school that is to be built.
Alford said he would love to see a Frank Brown-type park in South Walton, but the community does not have the infrastructure to support it, as motels and restaurants would be needed to cater to traveling teams.
Foreman, who has three children ages 17, 13, and 10, is vice president of the South Walton Youth Football. He said he does not think that type of park would fit in.
"We don't need a Frank Brown," he said. "That is not a market we need to entertain."
Walton County Tourist Development Council Executive Director Jim Bagby added, "Everyone wants more fields, but for us, not for traveling teams."
Meadows agreed this area is unique and it has other things to offer tourists besides ball. One thing she would like to see done is to connect every road with a bike path.
Helen McCall Park is located at 325 Moll Drive in Santa Rosa Beach, just south of U.S. Highway 98.
"We will continue to work on Helen McCall Park to improve and provide more recreation facilities for citizens,” said Meadows.
Ribbon cutting set for soccer field On Monday, Sept. 23, at 10 a.m., District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows will be hosting a ribbon cutting for the soccer field at Helen McCall Park. The park is located at 325 Moll Drive in Santa Rosa Beach. The soccer field will be the newest addition to the park, which currently features Mission Play Park, baseball/softball fields, batting cages, football fields, picnic tables, restrooms, pavilions and soccer fields.