'Our best kept secret': The 'jewel' of Destin parks is now open and ready to shine

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

The “jewel” of Destin is no longer secret. Captain Leonard Destin Park is officially open. 

The recently crowned Miss Destin 2021 Kaylie Sparks and Destin City Councilman Dewey Destin cut a tropical lei instead of a ribbon Thursday morning, along with city officials and staff to mark the grand opening of the 3-plus acre park off Calhoun Avenue. 

“I think it’s just beautiful … how appropriate,” Dewey Destin said as he walked the pathway through the park. 

Miss Destin Kaylie Sparks cuts a ceremonial ribbon as Dewey Destin, descendent of Leonard Destin, looks on during a ceremony Thursday for the city's newest park, Captain Leonard Destin Park on Calhoun Drive.

“This is where family life started in Destin, and now it’s a park that caters to families and children. They can come and recreate. I can’t think of a purpose more appropriate,” he said. 

While folks were milling about waiting for the ceremony to begin, Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis said it’s been a long time coming.

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"It's been like a lollipop hanging out in front of us,” just waiting, Jarvis said. 

He said the park actually was completed in mid-August, but Hurricane Sally hit about the time the city was planning the official opening. The hurricane washed away some of the beach and the park was closed down. 

Repairs were made and the park was open most of the winter. 

People gather Thursday for a ribbon cutting ceremony at Captain Leonard Destin Park, located on Calhoun Avenue overlooking Choctawhatchee Bay. The site was the homestead property of Leonard and Martha J. McCullom Destin and their family.

“It’s been our best kept secret, so now we’re telling on ourselves with a grand opening,” Jarvis said with a smile. 

“It’s exciting (that) a community this small can have so much public waterfront parks, and we’re not done yet,” Jarvis said, noting the recent beach acquisitions initiative. “But this is just another crown and a jewel of Destin.”

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City Manager Lance Johnson welcomed all those in attendance and reiterated that “it’s been a long time coming.” 

Okaloosa County Commissioner Mel Ponder said the project has been on the drawing board for quite some time. 

Sisters Jolie and Jillian Cardenas try out some of the playground equipment at the new Captain Leonard Destin Park on Calhoun Drive overlooking Choctawhatchee Bay.

Ponder explained how the BP oil spill in 2015 created a lot of devastation for the area but at the same time created some resources that the city could participate in such as The Trust for Public Land. 

The Trust for Public Land purchased the 3.42-acre lot on Calhoun with Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment early restoration funds with a vision to create a park for the public, provide public access to the water and help preserve the history of the community. 

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“What started as tragedy, turned out to be provision, turned to vision, to completion and will now turn into experience,” Ponder said. 

Ponder also talked of the value of the name Destin on the city and now the park. 

When you name a park after a founding family, “it forever enshrines and protects the legacy and the heritage of our founding families,” Ponder said. 

Before the lei was cut by Mayor Jarvis, Destin Chamber President Shane Moody spoke to the more 50 people gathered at the park. 

Abram Ivey cools off in the splashpad at the new Captain Leonard Destin Park on Calhoun Drive overlooking Choctawhatchee Bay.

Moody touched on three buzz words — transformational, generational and visionary. 

“This park includes all three,” Moody said. 

“Quality of life doesn’t exist without quality of place,” Moody added, noting the quality of workmanship in the park. 

Kate Brown, senior project manager with The Trust for Public Land, as well as Pearce Barrett with DEP spoke.  

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“I feel like I’m having a baby,” Brown said, noting the long process of the project. “Everybody should have a place to escape and what better place than here.”

Dewey Destin gave a few remarks before the lei was cut, saying how “thrilled and amazed” Leonard would be of the finished park. 

“This is where seven generations grew up … launched vessels and had their gardens,” Destin said. 

The new Captain Leonard Destin Park on Calhoun Drive has a fishing pier and spot to launch kayaks and paddle boards into Choctawhatchee Bay.

“I couldn’t think of nothing better to go on this property,” Destin said. 

The park is open from sunrise to sunset and includes an accessible beach area, boardwalk, playground, restrooms, a splash pad, pavilions, dock, and paddleboard/kayak launch.