By DOTTY NIST
Walton County commissioners will be starting the New Year with at least one new responsibility: the management and oversight of a 10-plus acre property that had been donated eight years ago for use by the public as a nature center.
The property, located on Nursery Road in Santa Rosa Beach, was given to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) by south Walton County resident Pat Kellogg in 2003. At that time there were two older homes on the property, but most of it was wooded and in its natural condition. The donation was with the stipulation that the land be used as a wildlife nature preserve and educational center, with an emphasis on bird watching. The Choctawhatchee Audubon Society was provided with perpetual access to the property as part of the terms of the donation.
Soon after Kellogg’s donation, the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) was given charge of study, evaluation and planning for the development of the property according to Pat Kellogg’s intent. This was under the tenure of Kriss Titus and then Sonny Mares as TDC directors.
After taking on the Kellogg Nature Center as a project, the TDC conducted a visioning process for the center, and a conceptual plan was developed. Later, a short distance of preliminary trail was cleared on the property, looping through pine flatwoods connected to the Choctawhatchee Bay, and the two homes, which were dilapidated, were removed. The TDC spent $266,000 to put in a 20-plus-space parking lot and landscaping, along with stormwater structures. In April 2010, the TDC hosted the dedication of a plaque honoring Pat Kellogg and her husband Louis for the donation of the property. Pat had passed away in 2006, Louis in 1999.
The trails on the property, while still preliminary, are open for public use. The TDC has marketed them for use by visitors, and they are included on a list of trails featured on the TDC’s web site.
According to TDC Executive Director Dawn Moliterno, who came on board in spring 2010 soon after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the nature center project was put on hold after the oil spill.
At the TDC’s Dec. 13, 2011 meeting, Moliterno came forward with a recommendation to council members that they give over the management and development of the nature center property to the BCC. She explained that the ownership of the property had remained that of the BCC since the donation. Her recommendation was based on a review and determination by TDC legal counsel that the property was not something that the TDC could continue to invest tourist development dollars in at this time.
The recommendation received approval by the council members, and later the same day, at the request of Moliterno on behalf of the TDC, the BCC voted to accept the property for oversight and management. This was with the understanding that the TDC would continue to market the nature center.
District 5 Commissioner Cecilia Jones expressed excitement and optimism about future use of the Kellogg property.
“It’s a very beautiful piece of property,” she said, “and I’ve got some really great ideas for using it with our children. So I want to be very active, if we can come up with the money.”
There is no signage on the Kellogg property except for the plaque honoring Pat and Louis Kellogg, which is beside the water fountain near the parking lot. The property is located on the north side of Nursery Road, about half a mile east of the CR-393/Nursery Road intersection and just east of Garden Lane Drive.