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OPINION

Watching Destin of yesterday fade away, she wonders where it ends?

By Jennifer Shirah | Guest Columnist

I remember the first time my mom called me upset because she had taken my little sister to the beach in Destin, our hometown, and someone came out of a condo threatening them because that particular section of the beach supposedly “belonged” to them.

“How can someone own the Gulf?“ my mom asked me tearfully. The bigger question is, what is happening to the town that my family members founded?

More:Destin Council supports fire substation at Clement Taylor Park

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I believe in progress, I understand that things cannot stay the same. But there is also something to be said about protecting history. We have already lost the majority of the beauty of our sleepy little fishing village as condo upon condo has been added along the coastline.

Jennifer Shirah's grandmother, Ola Marler, is shown here in the mid- to late-1940s with her class at Taylor Park, the site of the first schoolhouse in Destin. Courtesy Jennifer Shirah.
Jennifer Shirah and her little brother outside their great grandma Bertha Marler's house on the bay - where we went crabbing and discovering pottery. Courtesy Jennifer Shirah.

One is a photo of a newspaper article that shows our family reunion at Taylor Park. One is a photo from the mid to late 40's of my grandma Ola Marler's class (Taylor Park was the site of the first schoolhouse in Destin). One is a photo of my mom (Lisa Brennan), my brother (Barney Shirah Jr) and myself at Taylor Park at a reunion.  And the last one is a 5 generation photo with my great great grandma Camilla Brooks Marler, my great grandma Bertha Marler, my grandma Ola Marler, my mom Lisa Brennan and featuring yours truly as the baby. 

Coming over the Marler bridge, which is named after my great-great grandfather, rather than being greeted by the slopes of Calhoun Avenue as it runs along the bay, we are now greeted by the overly-colorful monstrosity that is Harbor Walk. Rather than being able to look over the side of the bridge into the beautiful blue waters, we are forced to witness the drunken revelry that has overtaken Crab Island. 

One is a photo of my mom (Lisa Brennan), my brother (Barney Shirah Jr) and myself at Taylor Park at a reunion. Courtesy Jennifer Shirah.

As the daughter of a Shirah father and a Marler mother, my entire childhood is wrapped up in family lore and personal experiences in Destin. Whether we spent our time helping my uncles clean fish at Kelley Docks, watching my aunt greeting customers at Sexton’s, competing against our cousins in the kids’ portion of the Rodeo, riding our bikes from grandma’s house on Cross Street to the Army Rec center, looking for pottery in the bay around Grandma Bertha’s house or listening to great aunts and uncles telling stories of how Destin was founded while we were at our family reunion at Taylor Park, Destin was our home and we were proud of how tight-knit our community was. 

As the years went by, things changed; we lost many of our storytellers, I moved to Tallahassee for college and settled there to begin my own family and Destin saw so many changes that it is impossible for me to return home without a dreadful sense of loss and destruction. 

When do we decide enough is enough? Have we not given up enough of our pristine landmarks that hold so many precious memories and history? Sure you can visit the fishing museum and listen to my wonderful Aunt Carole as she points out lovingly-preserved displays, artifacts and exhibits from the bounty of the gulf and the bay. But the only thing we have left where the public can access and enjoy the beautiful Choctawhatchee Bay first hand is Taylor park.

Why would we destroy the last thing we have left? Surely that is not the only place that a fire substation can go? Although I am sure that a fire station is needed, it does not need to be built on the one piece of historic land that we have left. The history behind Taylor Park, not just my family’s history and the history of the city of Destin, but the history of the Native Americans that were here before all of us, is important to preserve. 

Peter Westbrook said “ so much of our future lies in preserving our past.” What hope can we have for the future of Destin if we are determined to destroy, rather than preserve, our past?

Jennifer Shirah, who is from Destin, now lives in Tallahassee.