Escambia County opens another free public beach on Perdido Key

Escambia County opens another free public beach on Perdido Key
By Fran Thompson
Escambia County officials recently held a ceremony to officially open a new free public beach access on Perdido Key featuring a permeable concrete parking lot with 35 parking spots, an ADA-compliant AccessMat dune walkover and educational signage about protected wildlife.
The site will add an additional 300 feet of public beach access on the west side of Perdido Key, and is located adjacent to the Crab Trap restaurant at 16470 Perdido Key Dr.
“This new access point will allow us to more than double the existing amount of free public beach access on Perdido Key for all the citizens of Escambia County to enjoy. That in and of itself is a remarkable accomplishment,’’ said Escambia County District 1 Commissioner Jeff Bergosh, who represents Perdido Key.
“This is only the beginning of the work our office plans to pursue to create more free access points on Perdido Key for our citizens’ use in the years to come,’’ he added. “And it will be open just in time for Spring Break. This is a great day for Escambia County.”
The 300 ft. public beach was the former site of the Sundowner Condominium, which was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The original concrete pad and building debris were removed in the summer of 2020 and the prior parking lot’s shell base was used for the parking area at the new public access. Construction was paid for with county tourism development tax.
Escambia County acquired the parcel in 2014 in part with a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide public beach access and conserve critical habitat for threatened and endangered species.
The site will be managed in accordance with the Perdido Key Habitat Conservation Plan, and fencing will prevent pedestrian and vehicular trespass into protected habitat areas, while signage will educate visitors about threatened and endangered species that utilize the site, including endangered beach mice, nesting shorebirds and sea turtles.
“Out of a tragedy of Hurricane Ivan that knocked down a condo that used to be here came an opportunity, so the commission at that time purchased this property and spent a little over $3 million, and they purchased it so we could do what we’re doing right now,” Bergosh said at the opening ceremony.
Commissioner Doug Underhill, who until December’s redistricting, represented District 1 and Perdido Key, objected to the public beach on the grounds that it would harm the Perdido Beach mouse habitat and it would be better to hold the land in conservation under the Habitat Management Plan. Underhill was also adamant that the county should aggressively persue other opportunities to purchase public beach access points.
Underhill is not running for re-election, but Bergosh, the Commission Chairman, said he will also push for more public beach access and parking access on Perdido Key.
“I’m a beach guy,” Bergosh said. “I love the beach, and I love going out to the beach to fish. And I love the idea of having public beach access for people on the west side of Pensacola.’’
The owners association from Seafarer Condos, located directly east of the new public beach access, filed suit against Escambia County to try to stop development of the access site in 2018 on the grounds that it violated the county’s land development code. That lawsuit is still ongoing in Escambia Circuit Court.
Pictured: County Commissioner Jeff Bergosh joined supporters wearing “Public Beach Access #4 OPEN” t-shirts for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Perdido Key public beach access.