NICEVILLE, FL. – This small Florida city has created a park that is equal to or better than many state parks in America. But it is clear Niceville is a special place, if you are willing to overlook the several miles of fast food restaurants and chain stores scattered along the highway.
City workers have built a beautifully maintained three-quarter mile long boardwalk that winds along the edge of pristine Turkey Creek. The walk runs past massive cypress trees, native flowering shrubs, and beautiful yellow-flowering water plants.
An additionalr 900 foot boardwalk has been constructed further up the creek. The city hopes to tie the two walks together with a 400 foot connection. If my calculations are right, that will make it quite close to a mile long.
Turkey Creek is exceptionally popular – so much so theyare considering adding more parking spaces. As many as 1,200 to 1,500 people of all ages visit on a summer Saturday or Sunday.
The ciy has built steps and platforms for the five swimming holes in the spring-fed creek. Teenagers have staked out one platform as their own. Joe Caudill, who was postmaster for 30 years in a neighboring town, is the personable, kindly but strict, park supervisor. No alcohol or food is allowed. A pleasant, cheerful young police officer in uniform is assigned to Turkey Creek,
The park attracts many species of birds, including owls, pileated woodpeckers, egrets and herons. There are raccoons, squirrels, and bobcats living in the swampy woods. Now and then somebody even spots a black bear. One visitor counted 75 turtles beneath the walkway in one deep hole in the creek.
In my view, Turkey Creek is actually superior to the Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp board walk near Naples, Florida. The Corkscrew ‘s water can dry up. Turkey creek has a flow of thousands of gallons per minute under the board walk. Another major difference are the Turkey Creek swimming holes, including one swimming area designed for people in wheelchairs. And in the Niceville park there are no alligators because the spring water is so cool.
Near the far end of the walk one finds a quiet area, dedicated to some of the area children that have died over the years. There are some 600 small, permanent plaques, naming each child and the child’s time on earth attached to pergola style overhead beams. Family members often sit on benches in this beautiful, quiet area, opening their Bibles, to meditate and pray.
The early spring day I visited the park I met a couple from Bolivia, South America, here to visit their adult daughter. Five young women from Michigan also were on the walk. And there were several retired couples as well as young parents pushing their babies in strollers
The ciy has built steps and platforms for the five swimming holes in the sandy-bottomed spring-fed creek. Joe Caudill, who was postmaster for 30 years in a neighboring town, is the personable, kindly but strict, park supervisor. No alcohol is allowed.
Caudill said when the park opens at 6:30 a.m. a group of retired folks show up – rain or shine – to walk the 3/4 mile length and back to the parking lot every day.
Asked how the popular park came into being, Csudill said it was City Manager, Lennie L. Corbin’s vision. Corbin, who has run he city for 43 years, handled the criticism by residents who didn’t understand what he was doing.
In fact Turkey Creek has helped to put Niceville on the map. It attracts visitors from nearly every state and from around the world. It is just one of the special things I found in Niceville.