No snow, no ice, just dazzling waters and white sand. That's what awaits those who visit Gulf Islands National Seashore during the winter months.
In an effort to entice snowbirds, officials of the seashore that stretches 160 miles along the Gulf Coasts of Mississippi and Florida put out the following release:
Located in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Islands National Seashore is a wonderful place to visit during the winter months. It is the nation's largest national seashore and stretches 160 miles from Cat Island, Mississippi east to Okaloosa near Fort Walton, Florida. More than 80 percent of the park is submerged lands teeming with marine life.
There are sparkling blue waters and magnificent white sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico along with fertile coastal marshes, and beautiful winding nature trails. Live oak forests are home to resident and migrating bird populations. The offshore islands and mainland sites attract thousands of visitors who enjoy swimming, beach combing, camping, boating, hiking, wildlife watching, and visiting historic fortifications.
In the Mississippi District in addition to Ship and Cat Islands, there are two wilderness islands, Horn and Petit Bois, which are accessible by private boat or by NPS licensed boat captains. Although the islands are located from 6 to 12 miles offshore, some visitors even kayak from the mainland. However, if long-distance boating is not an option, visitors may enjoy camping in the 51-site first-come, first-served Davis Bayou Campground nestled in the woods near the Davis Bayou in Ocean Springs.
Hiking, cycling, fishing, and birding are a few outdoor winter activities. Visitors are invited to stop by the newly refurbished William M. Colmer Visitor Center for orientation and information about the natural and cultural history of the area and to watch the new high definition film, "Stories of Survival." Ranger-led programs are generally presented on Sunday afternoons.
In the Florida District, the Seashore contains one of the most complete collections of publicly accessible structures relating to the evolution of seacoast defense in the United States. It represents a continuum of development from Spanish exploration and colonization through World War II. The forts of Gulf Islands National Seashore span almost 150 years, from the Spanish colonial Bateria De San Antonio (1797) to the World War Two-era Battery 234. This reflects the historic value of the anchorages at Pensacola Bay, Florida.
Most striking among these are the American Third System forts: Fort Pickens, Fort Barrancas, and the Advanced Redoubt, all of which saw action during the Civil War. Ranger-led tours of Fort Pickens and Fort Barrancas are given daily at 2 p.m. and at 10 a.m. on Saturday's at the Advanced Redoubt.
A special Candlelight Tour of Fort Barrancas is scheduled for January 7, 2012, to commemorate the Seashore's 41st anniversary.
In addition to the historic fortifications, other facilities include the picnic pavilions, boardwalk, fishing pier, visitor centers, 200-site campground, group campsites, trails, bike paths, plus miles and miles of accessible white-sandy beaches. For information and reservations for the Fort Pickens Campground on Santa Rosa Island near Pensacola Beach call "Reserve America" at 1-877-444-6777.
A variety of entrances passes can be used at the entrance gates at Perdido Key area, Fort Pickens area, and Fort Pickens Campground. The $80 annual America-the Beautiful permits a per vehicle free admittance; $10 life-time Interagency Senior Pass permits a per vehicle free admittance and half price on camping; Interagency Access Pass is free for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities.
Documentation is required to obtain the pass but allows free entrance for the holder and persons in vehicle and half price on camping. The $25 Gulf Islands NS pass allows free entrance and the $30 Night Owl pass allows free entrance after hours. All areas are closed at sunset.