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Gulf Islands National Seashore will close Thursday evening as Tropical Storm Nate eyes a potential landfall on the Gulf Coast sometime this weekend.

Current forecasts as of Thursday morning show predict the storm will make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane somewhere between eastern Louisiana and the Pensacola area on Sunday morning.

The closure affect all areas of the national seashore, including all Mississippi Islands and the Fort Pickens, Fort Barrancas, Naval Live Oaks, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and the Perdido Key Areas. While most seashore areas will close at their regularly scheduled time on Thursday evening, campers at the Fort Pickens & Davis Bayou campgrounds have until 12:00 pm on Friday to evacuate.

“With this tropical storm in the Gulf, and possibly of becoming a hurricane taking aim at the coast, we have to begin now in order to safeguard human life,” said Superintendent Daniel R. Brown. “Right now, we have to close the park for the safety of our visitors and our employees.”

Park staff will finalize the closure of all seashore operations and offices as Tropical Storm Nate continues to approach, after which the park’s incident management team will monitor the storm from a safe location. Gulf Islands National Seashore will reopen after the storm has passed and the staff has an opportunity to mitigate any hazards resulting from the storm.

Officials have frequently closed the seashore due to inclement weather in recent years, especially Santa Rosa Island’s Fort Pickens Area, where storms can wash out the barrier island’s 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.

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