New $4M visitor center coming to Topsail Preserve State Park

SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — Topsail Hill Preserve State Park will be getting a new visitor and nature interpretation center. 

A $4 million project will replace the current bathroom pavilion at the parking entrance.  

Plans include a larger structure with more bathrooms, a community center, and a nature exhibit walkthrough.  

“When you go to the park, you have to walk through that breezeway to get to the tram stop that takes you out to the beach access. So this will be a great opportunity to literally touch every single visitor that’s coming into the park,” Julia Woodward with the Florida State Parks Foundation said. 

Woodward said these exhibits will feature the park’s dunes, pine forest and wetlands. 

“Even the footprints that will be in the concrete as you walk through, we’re educating our visitors about the different species that can be found within the park and the role that they play in helping protect the ecosystems that are unique, we found a Topsail Hill Preserve,” Woodward said.  

The Florida State Parks Foundation said they already have $ 3.5 million from the state, another $50,000 from the Saint Joe Community Foundation, and asked the Walton County Tourist Development Council Tuesday to approve $285,000 to cap off their funding needs. 

“It’s very well thought out and I’m glad to see that you’re moving forward with something like this. So thank you for all that hard work I know it’s, it’s a lot, but the county needs things like this, in my opinion,” District 4 Commissioner Donna Johns said. 

The council approved the proposal. Final approval will be given by the board of county commissioners in an upcoming meeting.  

The state park said they will review the parking lot for improvements in 2029, but need to keep capacity down to ensure the ecosystem continues to thrive. 

“For example, right now, Henderson Beach Park has no nesting birds, and last year they had three sea turtle nests. Whereas Topsail had over 30 sea turtle nests and we have active nesting shorebirds in our beach. If you put that 600,000 visitors on the beach, as they have at Henderson, we will not have that wildlife,” park manager Chris Hawthorne said. 

Once the funding is complete, construction will start in September with plans to be finished in 2025.  

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