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Johnson Beach Gets A Makeover

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Johnson Beach

Work is underway at Johnson Beach to remove some dilapidated structures considered unfit for public use, and sand considered to be a nuisance to both buildings and visitors.  

“Extensive structural damage” is said to be the reason the buildings are coming down. Among them is the Star Pavilion, which Dan Brown,  the Superintendent of Gulf Islands Nation Seashore, says is drawing everyone’s attention.

“This past fall, a routine inspection detected extensive termite damage,” said Brown. “We’ve done numerous evaluations to come up with costs for repair or replacement. And the cost analysis indicated it was best just to remove it.”

The pavilion was on the beach when Hurricane Ivan razed it in 2004. It was rebuilt in the middle of a nearby parking lot, and that’s where the silver lining of its demolition lies for visitors.

“We have significant parking shortages over there on a regular basis during peak weekends,” Brown said. “So when we take it down we’ll just pave over and stripe that section, and it will add 39 parking spaces. We have two other large pavilions over there to meet the need of picnickers.”

And it’s not just the buildings targeted in the makeover.  Another issue to be addressed is excess sand building up at park pavilions and damaging boardwalks.

“Being out there on a barrier island, this land is constantly moving and anytime you have a structure, it tends to create changes in the wind patterns and eddies and so forth and builds up dunes oftentimes right next to the structures,” said Brown. “We’ve actually got some pretty large dunes in between the restroom building, the pavilions and the boardwalks.”

That may look pleasing aesthetically, but the region’s famous sugar-white sands also carry the potential for damage.

“The sand holds moisture, and so it exacerbates wood rot and so forth,” Brown said. “So we’ve been working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and they’re actually going to work with and assist us to help remove the sand from around many of the facilities.”

An assessment of crossover boardwalks has led to the decision to replace five of them with road-level walkways through the dunes, and to repair another four.

Gulf Islands also has been contacting local organizations to keep them posted on what’s going on with the work. Superintendent Dan Brown says that’s a common practice when changes are being considered and conducted at the park – especially involving the Star Pavilion.

“Once the decision was made to remove it we realized that we really needed to reach out to folks,” said Brown. “I reached out to [Escambia] County Commissioner Doug Underhill, and the Perdido Key Chamber [of Commerce]. It was important that we provide as much information as we could about why we thought that was the best course of action.”

Heavy equipment has been brought in for the sand removal, with completion expected by the end of this month. Removing Star Pavilion will be a little more involved.

“I think over the next week or so, we’ll get Fish and Wildlife in to assist with moving the sand around the picnic pavilion and the restrooms,” said Gulf Islands Superintendent Dan Brown. “Actual removal of the Star Pavilion is larger than we can manage with our equipment, so we’re going to be contracting that out.”

The project is expected to be completed in time for the summer tourist season.

While humans will benefit from the demolition and sand removal, the main goal is to limit their effects on the park’s wildlife – sea turtles, shorebirds, and beach mice, among others.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.