We, (Susie, myself and Fiona II, our fifth wheel) left Estero, Florida the first week of March planning to set up shop in Panama City Beach at St. Andrew’s State Park. I initially planned to make the 520 mile trip in one day, figuring maybe 11 hours even though Sheila, the GPS, said it was an 8 hour trip. I don’t know where she comes up with those estimates. I normally add about 25 percent to whatever Sheila comes up with.
We ended up taking two days to get there and since it was cold (low 30’s) I decided against stopping in a WSal-Mart parking lot and instead, looked for a campground to stop for the night. I found one that was just what we needed in Lake City, Fl. The In and Out campground was at exit 427 on I-75 and had everything I needed for a one night stand; pull thru sites, easy access a half mile from the exit and a chance to walk to a restaurant. It was a bit pricey (32 bucks and change) but I was happy to spend it.
St. Andrews State Park is a great place to stop with sites right on the water.
Our stay coincided with one of the early Spring Break weeks and if you are comfortable with young adult hedonism, it would be okay but I, being a curmudgeon, was a bit dismayed. You will need to get reservations early at the campground during this time period.
Our next stop was at Fort Pickens on the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola Beach, Fl. I am a big fan of Pensacola because of a seafood market and adjoining restaurant that has the best seafood I have ever eaten.
Pensacola is also home to the Naval Air Museum. This was an all day visit and the best part is that it was free.
Our visit to the campground at Fort Pickens is why this post was started. I just threw in the other stuff. I wrote a column about this and I wanted folks who do not have access to the newpapers I write for to see the piece. I was shocked when I got there at the deplorable condition of the place so I wrote about it and I think it is important enough to publicize it the best that I can.
The column: A visit to Fort Pickens.
My wife, Susie and I have just spent a few days at the Fort Pickens National Monument on the Gulf Islands National seashore. Santa Rosa Island, the site of the fort, is situated on the south side of Pensacola Bay between the bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The island is reached by bridge from the city of Pensacola. It’s a beautiful but unnerving ride for a Hoosier landlubber out to the fort from the bridge off-ramp. The road, which looks to be no more than a foot or so above sea level, works its way through the sand dunes and at various points, the island is less than a hundred yards wide making me wonder what this road is like during a storm or worse, a hurricane. When we checked into the campground, I got my answer. We were given a paper with instructions for evacuation should the weather turn threatening.
Of course, me being a man’s man, this didn’t bother me one bit. I can always save myself, given any disaster, but, of course, I was concerned for Susie. Even though we’re still a couple of months away from hurricane season and the forecast called for bright sunshine for the next week, I still checked the horizon every once in a while looking for stormy weather, just in case I needed to sweep Susie up in my arms and swim the mile or so across the bay to safety.
The Fort was built at the mouth of Pensacola Bay to defend that waterway and the Pensacola Naval Yard. It was built over a 5 year period beginning in 1829 but this area has a rich history long before that, dating back to the early 1500’s. The city of Pensacola claims to be the first ‘white’ settlement in the new world. This claim strikes me as odd since in our travels, we have been to Plymouth Rock, St. Augustine, Santa Fe, Jamestown and the Roanoke colony in North Carolina. All of them lay claim to being the ‘first’ something or other. If this were a History lesson, I would delve further into Pensacola’s claim. It’s terribly interesting and I wish I had the space to tell you what I’ve learned (actually, it might make a good subject for a column) but instead, today I need to tell you about something that has me really upset.
Right now, I am basking in the warmth of the southern sun, away from the harsh winter storms raging up north. There is wonderful fresh seafood to prepare, readily available and right at my fingertips. There’s beautiful scenery, both natural and manmade in the form of bikinied spring breakers but still, right at the moment, I am not a happy camper.
The reason I am not happy is that the Fort Pickens Monument is caught right in the middle of the financial folly and gridlock coming out of Washington, D.C.. All one needs to do to realize that the National Park service is being shortchanged is to look around at this place. The campground restrooms are a disgrace and the whole place in general has a look of shabbiness. The laundry room was cordoned off with yellow caution tape. “They say there’s a gas leak.’ a lady in the next campsite told me. ‘But, it doesn’t matter anyway. The room and the equipment are filthy, no way would I use it.”
“I can see that.” I told her.
“We love this place.” She continued. “We have been coming here for years but the last few times, each time we get here, it’s went downhill a little more. It almost brings me to tears.”
I went to the campground headquarters and talked to the Rangers about the situation. “Two words,” she said. “Budget cuts.’ That was all it took to explain the problem.
“We don’t have anyone to do maintenance; two people left and they weren’t replaced.” She said. “I just hoping I can hang on to my job.”
This situation makes me angry. I won’t even pretend that I know the answers to the budget problem but I do know this; the Federal Parks are a National Treasure and the envy of the rest of the world. They are a haven from the madness in our society and a place to go when the idiotic goings-on in the world get to be too much for your stomach to digest. A walk alongside a lake or through the woods, spotting a bird you’ve not seen before, or standing on the edge of a canyon, at the foot of a mountain or stepping into the surf on an ocean shoreline; that’s all it takes to sooth whatever it is that’s bothering you.
There are no sides to take when it comes to our recreational areas. These 394 National Parks belong to all of us; the urban dwellers, country folks, the rich, the poor, the old, the young, the handicapped, whether they be male, female, Christian, Jew, Atheist and no matter their race or sexual orientation. The parks are the last thing that these glad-handing, myopic troglodytes should be allowed to hold ransom just to further their cherished, special interest viewpoints.
I’m tempted to tell you to write your congressman about what is being done to our hallowed, irreplaceable parks, historical and reacreational, but the realist in me tells me that would do little good. It’s going to take more than that. Anyone have any ideas??