County Commissioner Cheryl Sanders got a surprise on her birthday last week, and the county gave itself a wonderful gift.

At a ceremony Thursday morning, Aug. 9, state and local officials dedicated the county’s new Island View Park, a two-acre stretch along the south side of U.S. 98, about one mile east of Carrabelle, with almost 900 feet fronting St. George Sound.

The new park, funded in large part by the monies stemming from the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, will eventually encompass an additional five acres on the north side of U.S. 98, the precise configuration depending on a proposed relocation of the highway by state transportation officials.

At last week’s ceremony, all the attention was on the south side segment, the official opening of which has not yet been announced. There are two long fishing piers, shoreline access for paddle craft, and a central plaza with an information kiosk.

In attendance were an abundance of city and county officials, with only County Commissioner Noah Lockley absent. County Chairman Smokey Parrish offered the welcome, followed by an invocation from Commissioner Ricky Jones.

The deal to buy the frontage from Capital City Bank, after the closure of the former El’s Court Motel, had been overseen by Doug Hattaway, project manager at The Trust for Public Land, and he provided an overview of the project.

Hattaway worked to secure about $2.6 million in funding for the park amenities, including 10 years of operation and maintenance funds for the county, through an agreement with BP to conduct restoration projects to address injuries resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

These funds make Island View one of the first Florida parks to be completed out of these NERDA (Natural Environmental Resource Damage Assessment) monies, which are intended to enhance the public’s access to surrounding natural resources and increase recreational opportunities.

“This park both helps to compensate the people of Franklin County from the impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and provides a space where people can fish, stroll, kayak and rejuvenate along the picturesque St. George Sound,” said Hattaway.

He also helped secure an additional $1 million in funding for the park through a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This money is earmarked to preserve coastal hammocks, which are groves of deciduous trees predominated by oaks. The site is surrounded by coastal hammock, which has been designated as an endangered ecosystem.

“We thank the partnership of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Franklin County for working together to realize this vision,” Hattaway said.

Leslie Ames, deputy chief of staff for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, spoke on behalf of the department.

“Use and enjoyment of Florida’s coastal resources are an integral part of Floridians' lives,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein, in a press release. “DEP was proud to partner with Franklin County on the Island View Park project, which will provide the public with a new place to enjoy these unique coastal resources in Franklin County."

The highlight of the ceremony came with remarks from Sanders, in talking about “What This Park Means to Me.”

Sanders grew up not far from the park’s site, and she recalled the beauty of the area she experienced as a child.

“This has been a dream for a long time,” she said. “I have long sought to protect natural areas such as the Island View Park. The site is a jewel, the adjacent grass flats are pristine, and the view across the bay to Dog Island is unchanged from thousands of years ago.

“With this acquisition, time will stand still on a section of the Florida coast,” Sanders said.

Sanders, who decided not to run for reelection this year after 20 years in office, said she plans to continue to share her thoughts on county priorities, “I still have lots of projects in mind, but this will be my last project as a county commissioner,” she said, with her husband Oscar at her side, together with her brother, Will Kendrick, and his family.

Following her remarks, former County Planner Alan Pierce, current coordinator of RESTORE Act projects, announced the new pavilion would be dedicated in Sanders’ honor.

“This property was very close to Cheryl’s heart and it’s only appropriate that it be dedicated to her, for her commitment and her vision for the community,” he said.

Afterwards, for refreshments, the gathering shared in a birthday cake in honor of Sanders and Hattaway.

Pierce said the five-acre tract on the north side of US 98 has had the exotic species removed, and they have been replaced with flowering plants intended to recreate habitat for butterflies and birds, with plans for a possible bike path.

The curve on US 98 is known to pose dangers to motorists, and the county has in place an agreement with the St. Joe Company to obtain the 100 feet of right-of-way that would be needed to relocate the highway.

“We do hope that DOT (the Florida Department of Transportation) will do the relocation, and we could put more facilities on the north side,” he said.