Walton County Working to Team with in the Development of Regional Paddle Trail
Walton County Working to Team with Washington and Holmes in the Development of Regional Paddle Trail
In August, Walton County District 4 Commissioner and Chairman Sara Comander organized a regional paddle trail meeting with representatives from Walton, Washington and Holmes Counties as well as representatives from several Walton County departments, the City of Freeport, the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center, Northwest Florida Water Management District and private business.
Walton County began the process of developing a paddle trail initiative on the Choctawhatchee River beginning in 2011. During that time, former Walton County Board Member Scott Brannon led the movement towards the application for grant funding to develop the Blueway Paddle Trail. Unfortunately, Walton County was not awarded funding at that time.
Since then, resolutions supporting the paddle trail program have been approved by Walton, Holmes and Washington counties. Additionally, the counties and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Greenways and Trails Program have worked to establish maps and plans for the development of the trail.
During the meeting, the group discussed how a partnership between the three counties could lead to increased funding opportunities. Funding is always a challenge and discussion ensued about potential sources of funding from the Northwest Florida Water Management District, the Department of Environmental Protection Greenways and Trails program, Florida Historical Trust, E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center and RESTORE ACT funds. The counties all agreed that working together and submitting joint grant applications together would be best once applications begin to be accepted in April 2017.
“This regional paddle trail project is great not only for Walton County residents, but for our tourists as well,” said Comander. “The implementation of this project would help diversification of our tourism industry and assist us on capitalizing on the growth of the ecotourism market. I look forward to continuing the work we have begun with our partner counties.”
As this project progresses, partner counties and agencies will continue to meet and share information and resources in order to assist each other in obtaining funding for the successful completion and implementation of a regional paddle trail program.
Walton County’s Planned Paddle Trail Program
Locally in Walton County, there are plans to develop multiple sites along the Choctawhatchee River. Plans include the development of three regional accesses and two additional smaller accesses at the following locations:
• Berrian Lake Landing – Regional
• Cowford Landing – Regional
• Dead River Landing
• Morrison Springs – Regional
• River Road Landing
Current planning is in place to include multiple recreational facilities at each location. These facilities may include canoe/kayak launches, canoe/kayak racks and storage stations, primitive and/or RV campsites, picnic areas, benches, tables and educational kiosks about the area. In addition, plans exist at the regional accesses to include handicap accessible canoe/kayak launches.
Depending on the build-out capabilities at each access, the cost for design and implementation for the Walton County facilities are estimated to be between $300,000 and $500,000.
Photo: Commissioner Sara Comander meets with Walton County Environmental Specialist Melinda Gates to discuss the next steps regarding the regional paddle trail project.