The county is officially on board the pickle ball train.

County officials will hold a ribbon cutting 9 a.m. ET Wednesday, June 19 at Veterans Memorial Park at Beacon Hill to officially welcome the county’s first courts built exclusively for what is the nation’s fastest growing sport.

Local players had converted the tennis court at Frank Pate Park in Port St. Joe into temporary courts two days a week, but that was hit in the county and those courts were damaged by Hurricane Michael.

And, as it would happen, it was Hurricane Michael that provided the opportunity for the courts at Veterans Park.

The four courts were built and funded by Duke Energy as a goodwill gesture for allowing the utility to use the park as a staging area after Michael.

“They wanted to put the park back to what it was,” said Kelli Godwin, executive director of the Gulf County Tourist Development Council. “They re-seeded and did a lot of landscaping and built the courts.”

The courts opened a few weeks back and stay busy, Godwin added.

“All the pickle ball players are ecstatic,” she said. “The courts have been open and they have been staying full.

“It will be really great for our winter visitors when they come down. So many play pickle ball and have been hoping for courts in the county.”

Representatives from a pickle ball league based in Mexico Beach have appeared several times before the Board of County Commissioners on the issue.

“We are very thankful to be able to provide these courts to our visitors,” Godwin said.


Turtle Trail

The Turtle Trail is back open.

Hurricane Michael took away two of the original six turtles, crafted by Monumental Fabrication and hand-painted by local artists, which had been placed at parks around the county as a “Turtle Trail” promotion.

Visitors were encouraged to visit and take photos with all six turtles.

But the turtles located at Dunes Drive and County 386 were lost in the hurricane and at the request of the TDC those two were redone.

Funny thing, when TDC marketing director Kristy Grove was installing the new turtle at County 386 and U.S. 98, she noticed something in the sand on the beach.

A big green object, as she walked closer she recognized the object as the original turtle, for which a search with metal detectors had been undertaken and proved futile.

That turtle, with a plaque detailing its survival story, will now be on the back deck at the TDC Welcome Center.

The trail will also soon include the Sea Turtle statute and fountain on Village Drive.

“We can officially start sending people down the Turtle Trail again,” Godwin said.


Bed tax revenue

Bed tax revenue fell again in April, down 27 percent compared to the prior year and putting the TDC 23 percent behind receipts for the fiscal year to date.

That, Godwin noted, just about reflects the loss of rental units, according to a report from the Gulf County Tax Collector’s Office.

That showed that the number of reporting bed tax collectors had fallen by 30 percent since the storm eight months ago this week.

Additionally, the TDC, shortly after Hurricane Michael, amended budgets downward, hoping to collect at least 50 percent of the revenue from the record-breaking prior fiscal year.

So, with collections of $564,000 to date, the summer months ahead after a busy Memorial Day, bed taxes remain a glass-half-full proposition.

“We’re still on track on what we were hoping for and actually we are ahead of what we budgeted when we changed the budget,” Godwin said. “We are just grateful and happy people are coming and staying with us.”