The Florida Panhandle, taking in Wakulla to Escambia counties, carries plenty of history.
An initiative out of the University of West Florida seeks to designate the region for that historical past.
The Florida Archaeology Network and Askew Institute for Multidisciplinary Research have led the charge since July 2018 with a series of public meetings intended to culminate in the “Florida Panhandle Maritime National Heritage Area.”
The next meeting will be held 2-3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Port St. Joe Fire Station.
“We will continue our discussion about designation of a Florida Panhandle Maritime National Heritage Area and how to get involved in this incredible opportunity for the future of the Florida Panhandle,” said Dr. Sorna Khakzad, a Research Associate at the University of West Florida.
NHAs are, according to the effort’s website, are “are places where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important landscapes.”
“Unlike national parks, NHAs are large, lived-in landscapes. Consequently, NHA entities collaborate with communities to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and needs.”
A designated NHA is eligible for recurring federal funding and technical support from the National Park Service.
Designation does not impact property ownership or impose new regulations.
The long-term goal of the designation as a Maritime Heritage Area is promoting heritage tourism and creating a system for sustainable preservation of the cultural and natural heritage of Florida, according to the effort’s website.
A study conducted 2016-2018 revealed significant and diverse historical, cultural and natural resources in the Panhandle.
Those include resources that highlight major historical events (such as the signing of the Florida Constitution in Port St. Joe or a centuries old lighthouse), outstanding archaeological remains (St. Vincent Island for example), innovation, progress (ice machine in Franklin County, anyone) and the exceptional natural resources found along the Forgotten Coast.
The study concluded with a recommendation to create a NHA in the Panhandle.
The first step toward the designation is a feasibility study, which includes steps such as defining the area, compiling an inventory of assets and assessment and evaluation of the area’s resources.
Next week’s meeting in Port St. Joe is the 11th planning meeting in that process, meetings taking place at counties and cites around the Panhandle since last Fall.
In addition to discussing progress on the feasibility study, Khakzad said researchers will share information pertaining to FEMA’s interest in the project.
Also to be discussed upcoming workshops and training.