Huge Veterans Park project might be done by Veterans Day of 2021

OKALOOSA ISLAND — Veterans Park on Okaloosa Island might truly live up to its name by Veterans Day of 2021.


That 11th day of November of next year marks Okaloosa County’s scheduled completion date for a women military veterans memorial and other major additions to the park.


County officials anticipate the memorial will consist of eight or more bronze, life-size statues of women from various military organizations and/or branches of service. The statues could line a trail winding through the 17-acre park, which stands next to the Emerald Coast Convention Center.


The idea for the memorial came from County Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel, who has noted that Florida is home to the second-largest population of women veterans in the nation after Washington, D.C.


County officials plan to use bed tax money and private donations to pay for the project, which is estimated to cost about $750,000.


"This will be a project of national importance to women who have served this nation," Ketchel said Thursday in a statement. "It will bring visitors to Okaloosa County to honor women who have served our nation since the Revolutionary War."


On Jan. 14, the county Women Veterans Monuments Advisory Committee plans to consider candidates to be honored at the memorial.


"Many names are being considered, but no one has been specifically selected at this time," county spokesman Christopher Saul said.


Each statue will have an educational component explaining the significance of each woman and why she was chosen to be honored. The exact number of statues in the memorial and the identities of the individuals they represent are expected to be determined by May.


In addition to tackling those tasks, the advisory committee will recommend an artist/sculptor to craft the statues.


For many people, the statues will be the main highlight among many major changes planned for Veterans Park.


Besides the memorial, county officials expect the park by Veterans Day 2021 to include a pier with 22 boat slips for day-use docking on Choctawhatchee Bay; wave-reduction fencing; a stabilized bay shoreline; upland, elevated boardwalks; security cameras/lighting; osprey nesting platforms; and new native plants as well as fewer non-native ones.


Not including the statues, the new features could cost a total of $4.5 million to $8 million. County officials plan to pay that cost with a mix of funding sources.


Observation areas that will showcase the statues will be included in the overall design for the new-look Veterans Park, which is home to a great blue heron rookery and other wildlife.


The county recently received five responses to its requests for qualifications from consultants interested in providing the design services. A staff-recommended firm might be ready for the commission’s consideration in February.