Campers Brave Frosty Florida Temps
Despite this week's chilly temperatures, history buffs Mark and Brenda Conley of College Station, Texas, decided to ring in the new year "fort hopping" and camping in Alabama and Northwest Florida, the Pensacola News Journal reported.
Frost coated their tent, camping gear and the coats they left outside on Tuesday and Wednesday morning while camping at Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island, but a ceramic heater and electric blanket kept them toasty inside their sleeping bags.
"We lived through the roughest night," Brenda Conley 47, said after Monday night's 24-degree low, tying a record set in 1961.
The couple joined dozens of campers — true outdoor enthusiasts — spending their holiday vacation in tents or recreational vehicles in about 66 of the 200 campsites at Fort Pickens' two campgrounds.
Visitors have been lured to the park by the National Park Service website, which features the Seashore as this week's winter "getaway," Seashore Deputy Superintendent Nina Kelson said.
"People who live in colder places than here come to enjoy warmer weather," she said. "It's a getaway with better climate."
During hot and milder months, the campsites are typically filled with bathing-suit-clad campers seeking suntans and enjoying bodysurfing and pier and surf fishing. The warm evenings are perfect to watch the sunset melt into the western sky from the tip of the Gulf Islands National Seashore park.
Before damage from the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes closed the park for five years, campers — mostly snowbirds — filled the campgrounds to near capacity during the winter, Kelson said.
For several reasons, the number of campers has not returned to pre-Hurricane Ivan figures since the park reopened in the spring of 2009, Kelson said. Camping was limited much of last year as power was installed at campsites and sewer lines were installed. Then came the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last summer.
Even though the campgrounds were not full this week, the return of winter campers is a good indication the word is getting out that Fort Pickens has recovered from the spill, Kelson said.