Three areas in Gulf Islands National Seashore remain closed due to the impact of Tropical Storm Cindy.
The three areas on Santa Rosa Island, Ft. Pickens, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa, are still heavily inundated by the significant amount rain that’s fallen over the last couple of days.
Park spokesman Brent Everitt says the high waves and tides continue to push water across the roadways, causing a lot of issues in those areas. One of the problems is 3-6 inches of standing water over a three-mile stretch of Fort Pickens Road.
“The other issue we’re having is, because of these strong surf and waves, the water’s actually being pushed from the south side to the north side of the road,” said Everitt. “And it’s causing some washaways to happen on the edge of the road. So our shoulders are being impacted, and we’ve had some sections where the roadway has broken off.”
Some minor road damage is reported in the Santa Rosa Area, and the road’s shoulder is washed away in some spots. On County Road 399 – J. Earle Bowden Parkway – Everitt says crews are clearing away debris and sand – including areas where the road’s relocation was completed a few months ago.
“A lot of the areas that we were able to repair in the off-season are being impacted, once again, by these storms,” Everitt said. “The improvement that we made are holding up well; it’s just about how fast we’re going to be able to put some fill back behind the edges of the road.”
One of the most impacted areas from Cindy is the park’s wildlife in general, and nesting sea turtles and shorebirds in particular.
“We were having such a great year, with sea turtles; we were up to 36 nests in just four weeks at the park,” said Everitt. “And it’s really unfortunate because it looks like they’re going to be heavily impacted by this storm. Most of our bird colony areas and traditional nesting areas, are currently under water.”
The full impact won’t be known until the water recedes and the park’s resources staff can get to the areas.
“As soon as it’s safe for them to do, they’ll get out there and see what the impact truly is,” Everitt said. “We’re expecting some very unfortunate and significant impacts to our wildlife.”
In past storm situations, some visitors would stay put in the park’s camping areas. But not this time. Everitt says the evacuation protocol began on Monday, with visitors leaving the following day.
“In both our campgrounds in Florida and Mississippi, we did do our evacuations on schedule and on time,” said Everitt. “All park residents were removed from the areas, and luckily we got all of that clear. “The roads are impassable now.”
The Fort Pickens Campground now has significant standing water, and all reservations through Sunday night are cancelled. Those holding them are being contacted. Complete assessments cannot be started until the rain stops and the water recedes. That might be a few more days.
Park status updates will be posted online at www.nps.gov/GulfIslands, along with Facebook and Twitter.