Officials at the Gulf Islands National Seashore said that the park’s Fort Pickens Area would close effective at 8:00 p.m. Monday as a potential tropical storm gathers strength in the Gulf of Mexico.
All visitors currently in the Fort Pickens Area are being instructed to leave at this time. A mandatory evacuation of the Fort Pickens Campground will begin at 9:00 am on Tuesday. The Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Perdido Key Areas of the park will remain open at this time, but their status may change with conditions, officials said.
“With tropical conditions possibly taking aim at the coast, we have to begin now in order to safeguard human life,” said Superintendent Dan Brown. “Right now, we have to close the park for the safety of our visitors and our employees.”
Officials have repeatedly closed the Fort Pickens Area due to weather in recent years, as storms threaten to wash out roadways or cover them with sand. The National Park Service earlier this year completed a $3.4 million project to realign a 1.5-mile section of Fort Pickens Road to the north, behind protective sand dunes. Brown has said that if the road is taken out by a future hurricane, it might not be rebuilt, leaving the upcoming Pensacola Bay Ferry system as the only access to Fort Pickens. The road was last rebuilt in 2005 after Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis, at a cost of $25 million.
Status updates will be posted online at www.nps.gov/GulfIslands and via social media, officials said. Park areas will reopen after the storm has passed and officials have the opportunity to mitigate any hazards resulting from the storm.