NPS Gulf Islands National Seashore - Fort Pickens Ferry System

In order to maintain cost-effective, sustainable visitor access to the Gulf Islands National Seashore (GUIS), the National Park Service (NPS) has proposed the development of passenger ferry service from Pensacola, Florida, to Fort Pickens. Santa Rosa Island, the site of Fort Pickens and part of GUIS, is susceptible to coastal storms and erosion. The Fort Pickens Road within GUIS is frequently damaged by storms, including hurricanes in 2004 and 2005. The transportation system in the Fort Pickens area is particularly vulnerable to disruptions caused by these impacts. The development of ferry service will improve visitor access and provide transportation to Fort Pickens if vehicle access is disrupted.

Although the documents associated with the development of the ferry service do not include reference to climate change, the impacts of climate change will present challenges for managers of national parks. GUIS is experiencing warming that will likely affect all aspects of park management. In addition to warming, GUIS is vulnerable to the effects of sea-level rise. Forty-two percent of the mapped shoreline was classified as being at very high or high vulnerability to future sea-level rise in a 2003 USGS study. GUIS facilities are already impacted by coastal storms. Damage from hurricanes in 2004-2005 resulted in the closure of Fort Pickens Road for nearly five years. Even after reconstruction, the road must be closed 10-12 times per year due to flooding. The most recent General Management Plan (GMP) for GUIS, finalized in 2014, acknowledges the vulnerability of GUIS to climate change impacts, such as sea-level rise, increased erosion and flooding, and identifies management strategies to help address climate change impacts. The GMP states that NPS will evaluate proposed facility investments in light of climate change projections and develop adaptation strategies (GMP at 153). It points to enhanced use of alternative transportation as an adaptation and sustainability strategy that is supported by the new GMP, and it calls for water access to the Fort Pickens Area. NPS also conducted an assessment estimating the exposure of all its coastal parks’ assets to 1-meter of sea-level rise, finding that 81 percent of its assets at GUIS have a high exposure to future sea-level rise.

The National Park Service is taking a multifaceted approach to reducing the vulnerability of GUIS transportation infrastructure to the impacts of coastal storms. The NPS completed environmental review of facilities needed to support the Fort Pickens Ferry System, finding no significant impact of constructing these facilities and providing shuttle service in the Fort Pickens Area. A ferry pier has been built and the ferry system is expected to begin service in 2017. In addition, the NPS is proceeding with a project realigning the Fort Pickens Road to reduce its vulnerability to coastal storms. That project is designed so as to move the existing road inland to reduce the effects of erosion and flooding.

The proposed Fort Pickens Ferry System provides an example of how the effects of coastal flooding, erosion, and sea-level rise could be addressed through the development of alternative transportation networks.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on January 29, 2016.


Publication Date: September 2015

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