Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park – Niceville, Florida (Part Two) – February 7 – 21, 2023

In 1940 the U.S. Forestry Service surrendered an 800 square-mile area of Florida Gulf Coast shoreline covered in pine trees to the War Department. The area in a largely uninhabited section of the Florida panhandle became a major site for gunnery and bombing practice by nearby Eglin Air Force base during World War II. As you saw in Part One, a concrete test bomb found in the area is thought to have been dropped by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle’s B-25 squadron following the attack on Pearl Harbor, along with remnants of other test bombs.

Following the end of WWII, urban development made the area unusable as a bombing range and in the late 1950’s the Director of Civil Engineering, Colonel Fred Gannon, proposed that the range be converted into a public area. Under his direction, the engineering group began the initial construction of the park based on his proposed designs. Shortly after the completion of the road and trail work in 1966, the lands were purchased by the State of Florida and became part of the Florida State Park System.

However, as you can see by the map in this post’s photo gallery AND as Cindy and I can attest, the park is still surrounded by gunnery and ordnance test ranges that are used almost daily by Eglin Air Force base. The sounds of jet planes flying overhead and concussive sounds of test bombs being dropped were heard during much of our stay. A little unnerving at first, but they soon grew to be just a part of the nearby atmosphere.

Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park Has 42 spacious, shady sites that can be used both by tent campers and RV’s. All sites have water and 30/50 amp electric, a picnic table and fire ring. Some, such as our site, are water-view (of Rocky Bayou). Our site was level and had a nice amount of space between the sites on each side of us. It was a short walk to the bathhouse (we didn’t use) and the four washer/dryer machines (one washing machine was out of order) as well as a nice, large lending library where I donated several paperback books that had been given to me.

We also hiked all the park trails multiple times. The Red Cedar Trail is home to impressive red cedar trees along with many other varieties of plants, shrubs and trees. Sand Pine Trail follows the eastern shore of Puddin Head Stream. This stream is a habitat unique to this area: It’s a fragile ecosystem with several species of aquatic plants such as the pitcher plant and Florida anise. The Rocky Bayou Trail is adjacent to Sandpine Trail. The return loop of this trail follows the picturesque shoreline of the bayou.

We also visited the nearby Air Force Armament Museum during our stay. The museum is open daily, admittance is free of charge and parking is plentiful. The 28,000 square-foot main building houses four full-sized aircraft and has seen more than 2 million visitors pass through its doors since their opening in 1976. In addition to the four aircraft the interior museum contains displays of guns, bombs, bomblets, missiles and other armament used by the Air Force, as well as displays dedicated to the World War II, Korean, Vietnam and Gulf War eras. Outside the museum is encircled by another 25 actual aircraft used by the Air Force over the years, including the SR-71 Blackbird which is the fastest plane ever built.

Finally, there was no way we could be so close to Destin without visiting the beach. We had a good time just walking along the shore, listening to the waves of the Gulf of Mexico as they crashed against nearby and listening to the gulls and other birds as they circled above and hopped along the sand. Cindy even stood at the edge and let the waves touch her feet while I held her sandals.

Out stay at Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park was a very enjoyable one and I think we would both enjoy returning there for another stay in the future.

Thanks for following the Wandering Wetheringtons.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *