The next phase of a multi-million dollar effort to remove more than 20 year’s worth of accumulated asphalt and debris from Gulf Islands National Seashore is now underway, National Park Service officials announced this week.

In March, park officials announce the completion of phase one of the asphalt removal project, an effort that began at Fort Pickens in summer 2016. Approximately 400 yards of asphalt fragments and road base material were removed from over 150 acres of the Fort Pickens Area.

Officials said the goal this season is to clean 275 acres at the park’s Santa Rosa Area. Surveys indicate an estimated 390 acres require cleaning and any areas not cleaned will be completed during subsequent field seasons. Although not part of the current work plan for this year, the project will also include native plant installation to mitigate for any damage to vegetation caused by the asphalt removal.

Fort Pickens road winds through the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Santa Rosa Island. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

The Fort Pickens cleanup is part of a much larger five-year project, which includes the Fort Pickens, Santa Rosa and Perdido Key Areas of the park. Throughout each area, asphalt pieces ranging from the size of large slabs to as small as a quarter of an inch in diameter, and other road base materials will be removed.

According to officials, the project allows work to be performed only while shorebirds and sea turtles are not nesting, and it also includes replanting vegetation in areas damaged during the asphalt removal process.

Roadway debris has accumulated for more than 20 years following hurricanes and storms that destroyed and scattered portions of the park’s asphalt roads. The entire project is funded as a Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Early Restoration project to compensate the public for the injuries to recreational use of the national seashore caused during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

(National Park Service/Special to The Pulse)

Officials are warning visitors and residents that minor impacts to parking and traffic flow in the particular area of cleanup activities may occur. This may affect commuters using J. Earle Bowden Way between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Work on weekends and holidays is expected to be minimal, but may occur if significant rain delays are experienced.

“Although visitors may see unsightly large equipment on our beaches now, we are excited to see the significant improvements in the park’s appearance as a result of this work,” stated Superintendent Dan Brown.

The current work is expected to continue through February 2018, and wrap up prior to the beginning of shorebird nesting season.