July 26—South Walton has a good problem.
Its beaches are packed and its visitor numbers, according to a study done for the Tourist Development Council, are growing by 14 to 15 percent annually.
The good problem has, inevitably, created some not so good problems. A primary one, for a location touted as a drive-to destination, is parking.
Walton County spokesman Louis Svehla said parking in South Walton County, and particularly along popular beach front County Road 30A, has been discussed as an issue by the commission since he started his job three years ago, but has come under heavy scrutiny more recently.
This year a couple of ventures have been undertaken to improve the parking dilemma, and, armed with $1.26 million in county money, TDC Director Jim Bagby is laying plans to do still more before Spring Break 2016.
“We’re working as fast as we can to get engineers and others to work,” Bagby said.
This year, the county has worked a deal with Topsail Hill State Park to allow day visitors to park for free in the 100 to 120 spaces there.
Trams run to the state park beach, but it’s about two miles from the state facility to the amenities provided on 30A. Park officials said some who park at Topsail Hill choose to bike that distance.
Bagby said the park parking option was popular over Memorial Day, but isn’t being utilized as often this summer.
“I think we need to do over our PR push,” he said.
The TDC also spent $11,000 to lease a lot across from Ed Walline Park this year. The leased lot adds 60 parking spaces to the 42 that had previously been available, according to numbers provided by Svehla.
The county gave the TDC $1.26 million in March to “fund parking improvements identified as priorities” in South Walton.
But, as TDC Board Member Art Miller pointed out, there isn’t a whole lot of available space the county can lease or purchase along crowded 30A to build new parking lots.
While they’re looking out for places available to purchase or lease for parking, Bagby said the TDC is also doing what it can to exploit existing parking resources.
The managers of Seaside have successfully negotiated with a nearby church to use the church parking lot during the week for employee parking, Bagby said.
He intends to approach Resurrection Catholic Church and the Destiny Worship Center to inquire about using those lots during the week to park beach visitors and trolley them to the beach.
Local schools might also participate in such a plan during the summer months, Bagby said.
Efforts are also afoot to “formalize” the parking on right of ways where visitors are already parking, Bagby said. Doing so would passively encourage better parking, and perhaps increase the number of spaces available.
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