Canaveral National Seashore celebrated its 25th birthday on January 3, 2000; however, the concept for the park actually originated 44 years earlier. This 25 miles of pristine Atlantic Ocean beach, dunes and Mosquito Lagoon is the longest expanse of undeveloped land along the East Coast of Florida and as a federally protected area will remain primarily as it is today. Future generations from throughout the world will visit, enjoy and appreciate the efforts of many organizations and individuals who had the foresight and persistence during the 1960Õs and 70Õs to make the dream into a reality.
During 1955, a National Park Service (NPS) survey team visited the Turtle Mound area and "found the seashore a priceless scenic and scientific resource for which there is no substitute". Ten years later T. C. Wilder, president of the New Smyrna Beach (NSB) Chamber of Commerce, organized a Seashore Park Sub-committee, acting on a recommendation by the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council (ECFRPC) to follow up on the NPS report. The committee included several former presidents of the NSB Chamber of Commerce. They were Dr. Cook (Committee Chairman), John Deal and Walter Mulbury. Other members were Ed Hughes, Mayor of NSB, Bill Owens of the ECFRPC, Volusia County Commissioner Harris Saxon, Chamber of Commerce Director William I. Smith, and Chamber of Commerce Manager Hanford Eckman.
Their purpose was "to meet with State and NPS officials, as well as area chambers of commerce to promote the creation of a 15 mile long National Seashore on the Atlantic Ocean south of New Smyrna Beach. The proposed name was Cape Canaveral National Seashore". Robert G. Howard, ECFRPC director, in a February 2, 1968 letter to the chamber stated: "The proposal to preserve 9,000 acres of land between Cape Kennedy and New Smyrna Beach is without doubt the RegionÕs most important recreational project. The entire country today has only 10 national seashores, including Gulf Island National Seashore in the Florida Panhandle and Cape Lookout in North Carolina. No other recreation site in the Region, the State, or perhaps the Nation can compare with it".
On April 26, 1968, the Volusia County Board of Commissioners passed Resolution No. 68-51 requesting the Department of the Interior to establish the National Seashore on the east coast of Volusia County, Florida. In 1968, William V. "Bill" Chappell was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. During his first year in office, Chappell promised the chamber that the seashore project would be one of his top priorities. He kept his word and on April 5 and 6, 1974, Congressman Roy Taylor, chairman of the house subcommittee on National Parks and Recreation, brought a Congressional party to review the proposed site. A second group, including Chairman of the Senate National Parks and Recreation Committee, Senator Alan Bible, visited on April 19. By this time the original 9,000 acres had grown to 35,000. Things then began to progress quickly. The House passed the Seashore Act on December 3, as did the Senate on December 17. After ten years of perseverance, the chamber realized its goal to establish Canaveral National Seashore when President Gerald Ford signed his approval on January 3, 1975.
Throughout those ten years the Titusville Chamber of Commerce worked closely with the New Smyrna Beach Chamber, as did former Congressman Lou Fry, who joined Chappell in co-sponsoring the Seashore Bill. By this time the size had increased to an authorized 57,500 acres. This included 25 miles of oceanfront in southeast Volusia and northeast Brevard Counties, most of Mosquito Lagoon and mainland acreage south of Oak Hill extending along SR 3 to SR 402, east of Titusville. In the mid 1980Õs Congressman Chappell sponsored a bill to bring Seminole Rest and the "Stuckey Property" facing U.S.1 at the SR 3 intersection into the Seashore. Congressman John Mica is now working with Canaveral National SeashoreÕs Superintendent Robert Newkirk to secure the funds needed to renovate the historical buildings at Seminole Rest and develop the surrounding NPS land into a pubic recreation area.
Canaveral National Seashore is unique in several ways. It shares two different climate zones since this area is where the semi-tropical climate merges with the temperate climate zone. Because of this, many varieties of plant life are found in the park. Over 310 species of birds have been observed, including the bald eagle, wood stork, Eastern scrub jay, brown and white pelicans, roseate spoonbill and many species of shorebirds. Manatees and porpoises are regular visitors to the lagoon waters. Both the Atlantic surf and lagoon are excellent year round fishing areas. Probably the most prolific creature, from April to November, is the salt marsh mosquito. It is never shy about greeting park visitors in massive numbers. The beach area of Canaveral National Seashore has about 4,000 sea turtle nests each season.
In 1989, Jim Jones, editor of The New Smyrna Beach OBSERVER, discussed saving the historic State House in the Eldora section of the Seashore with then Superintendent Sibbald Smith. Jones contacted several local residents about forming a committee to save the State House, which although having been built in the early part of this century, was still in restorable condition. Meeting informally in August 1989 at The OBSERVER office, a group consisting of Jones, Sid Corhern, Clay Henderson, Garry Luther, Bob and Diane Pincus, Larry Sweett, T.C. Wilder, Jr., George Wolsfelt, Superintendent Smith and John Booker from Congressman Craig JamesÕ office agreed to form the Friends of Canaveral. The goal of the Friends would be to renovate the State House and open it to park visitors as an Interpretative Center on the history of Eldora. A formal organization was set for 10:00 a.m., September 6, 1989, on site at Eldora. More than 30 persons were in attendance. Sid Cohern, a local architect, was selected as temporary chairman and elected president when the Friends of Canaveral voted to incorporate as a Florida non-profit corporation. Elected to serve with Cohern were Jim Jones, secretary, and Peggy Wolsfelt, treasurer. Elected as directors were Joanna McKenney, Dot Moore, Larry Sweett and T.C. Wilder, Jr.. Wilder was later elected as vice president.
During the Fall of 1989, several on site workdays were held to clean and scrape/remove the exterior paint. Following this, McKenney arranged for Churl Building Contractors to spray paint the exterior and cover the roof with roll roofing. This provided needed time for the Friends to apply for and receive several State Florida Historical Grants and to have several local fund raising events. The most popular was the Eldora Sampler Resturant Excursion, an annual event through 1997. The Sampler featured specialty dishes of participating beachside restaurants. VOTRAN sent its "Trolley" each year to transport patrons from restaurant to restaurant. Local musicians and singers, including Tom Clements, Gino Conti, Susan Hounsom, Mark Monteson and others, added to the festive mood with an afternoon of songs and music. Local businesses and Central Florida attractions from Orlando to St. Augustine donated door prizes to be awarded by ticket drawings at the close of event each year. Monteson was the event coordinator for the last four years of this well attended fundraiser.
Finally, after ten years (1989 Š 1999) the restoration was completed and the State House "renovation completion celebration" was held Saturday, May 22, 1999. The building was opened to park visitors the following day. Joining the Friends in the dedication ceremony were Congressman John Mica, who was responsible for securing the final $200,000 to finish the $400,000 project, his wife Ann, Dan Brown of NPS Regional Office in Atlanta, New Smyrna Beach Major Jim Vandergriff, former Superintendent Wendell Simpson, and present Superintendent Robert Newkirk. Special guests included Helena Wells, her son Walter and her daughter Nancy Wells Woods. The Wells family formerly owned the State House and were winter residents there for many years. They vacated the building in the mid 1950Õs and moved to Jacksonville where Dr. Wells opened a medical practice.
Canaveral National Seashore is open to the public each day during daylight hours. The boat-launching ramp at the north entrance to the park, south of New Smyrna beach on A1A, is open 24 hours a day. An entrance fee is charged except for those using the launch ramp. Senior Citizens over 62 are charged a discounted fee per car. All NPS passes are honored. During launch times at Kennedy Space Center the South District of the park, near Titusville may be closed. Bob Newkirk, the Superintendent of Canaveral National Seashore has stated numerous times: "The Seashore belongs to the public and we want everyone to come and enjoy it." Additional information is available by calling the Canaveral National Seashore Visitor Center at (904) 428-3384 Ext. 10, or park headquarters at (321) 267-1110.
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