Story by Liesel Schmidt | Photos provided by the City of Pensacola
When you get ready to enjoy a nice, relaxing day spent out at the beach, you pack everything imaginable. Your car becomes a veritable beach store on steroids, its interior nearly full to capacity with a plethora of accouterments that hardly allow space for your entourage. Water toys—check. Towels and blankets—check. Sunscreen, chairs, ice-laden coolers stocked with drinks and snacks…You get the picture. But unless you’ve packed your patience, by the time you actually step one tiny bare-footed toe on a grain of sugary white sand, you’ll be burning up with something that has absolutely nothing to do with the heat of the sun.
So is the situation faced weekend after weekend during heavy beach season, when the toll roads siphoning cars in and out of Pensacola Beach back up so far that the winding string of traffic spills back into the main highways, tying up the flow of travel for everyone, including those who have no intention of hitting the sand. And that very frustration served as one of the catalysts behind the planning of a ferry system serving Pensacola’s beloved Gulf Island National Seashore.
More than just a means to ease the traffic flow so commonly tying up the toll bridge, the intent behind ferry system is also to provide an alternative route to and from the beaches by way of Fort Pickens Road. And with good reason. Storm after storm has battered and destroyed the road, closing it for years on end to completely block passage and costing countless dollars in repairs only to have it close again. But with the implementation of ferry service being provided from a ferry dock both at downtown Pensacola and Quietwater Beach running from mid-March through October, the reprieve whose plans were first proposed in the late 1970s is now a reality; and temporary terminals are now open and ready for passengers.
In addition to alleviating traffic from cars on the road, service by the ferry will significantly reduce the mount of cars needing to find parking spaces adjacent to the beaches as well as lowering emissions from those cars. As passengers ride on the ferry, they will have a unique vantage point of the coastline and the water that they would otherwise not be able to enjoy, enclosed within the confines of their automobiles as they traverse the roads. “Pensacola has something that many communities do not because the Gulf Island National Seashore has such a great expanse of coastline, and it’s incredible to be able to experience the area from the water, seeing dolphins at play and looking back at the beaches. The ferry system will give people an opportunity to experience that,” says Superintendent of Gulf Island National Seashore Dan Brown.
“The ferry service will not only provide an alternate means of transportation to the beach and National Seashore, it will also traverse Pensacola Bay, providing an excursion opportunity to see and learn about our coastal environment from National Park Service personnel,” adds Mayor of Pensacola Ashton Hayward. “The ferry provides a missing piece of our transportation and tourism infrastructure that connects our beaches with historic downtown Pensacola, and we are very excited to partner with the County and National Park Service to provide this opportunity to our citizens and visitors.”
Certainly visitors and citizens are excited, as well, as the ferry will make their time at the beach infinitely more enjoyable. Rather than spending hours on end fighting their way onto the beach and circling endlessly in search of parking, they will be able to relax and enjoy the ride—and that’ll definitely make going out for a day at the beach more of the proverbial “day at the beach.”
To learn more about Gulf Island National Seashore Pensacola Bay Ferry System, contact the City of Pensacola at (850) 435-1603 or visit www.cityofpensacola.com.