Jimmy Buffet created Margaritaville on Santa Rosa Island, Pensacola Beach. He opened the Land Shark Landing bar and grill next door and gives benefit concerts to support local businesses hurt by the recession and Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. It is a jaunty-looking hotel now that Jimmy’s designers have added some color to the decor. It was originally built as a five-star, upscale resort until the recession tanked the project. Enter the tanned though aging Buffet whose reputation for losing his lost shaker of salt engenders a deep sigh of relief, donning of flip-flops and faded, oh-so comfortable tees—excuses to let the world’s tireless bantering just pass on by. Meanwhile, we’re in a hammock swinging in the breeze while Jimmy instructs us on how to develop the right attitude for the latitude. It’s a happenin’ place, part of the area’s story of adjusting to the times, cultivating resilience, and learning to keep on, keeping-on in spite of environmental disasters.
Pensacoleans reflect the long history of seafaring, lumbering, fishing and tourism that have fueled the coffers of the community and made it possible to live long enough to air condition homes and spray down the mosquito hordes so that it’s actually a pleasant place to live in between hurricanes.
We’re a tough lot. When the big winds blow, we stick together and the community builds back bigger and better than before, like antibiotics that select out the most resistant strains. We build bigger but do we builder smarter? Jury’s still out on that one. Our bravado against nature seems dimmed somehow, especially after the Oil Spill. That’s a horse of a different color, now an invisible invader. We can’t see it but we know it’s around. Haunting…disturbing.
Beyond Margaritaville, if you travel another half-mile west, you enter the Ft. Pickens National Park—a seven-mile stretch of protected barrier island beaches and habitats. And, even though it, too, has been impacted by the human footprint (the park maintains an asphalt road for the big recreational vans to get to the camping grounds), you can still get a glimpse of the natural habitats of a barrier island ecosystem. And it is truly a wonder. If you go off-season like now, in December, and you take time to walk around the marshlands, oak-pine woodlands, beaches, bay and inlets, you will not go unrewarded for your troubles getting there.
Go light. Binoculars and camera allowed. Pack a snack or lunch and beverage and go to Battery Worth part of the William Bartram Trail. You can park your car and head out to the bay, back to the view from the top of the old ramparts, then head out on the west-facing sandy marsh trail (1.7 miles) that ends at the main fort and information center. Meander and listen. Lots of bird action, wonderful wildflowers and vines, herons, ducks, and estuaries. You might see a beaver or an armadillo waddling around. Stop to rest on a bench, better yet lay back and watch the clouds. You can find peaceful moments if you let your thoughts run off on their own, unattended. Keep going. There are miles of trails, interpretation of history at the Fort, a marvelous bookstore and lots of Civil War history. Walk to the fishing pier and diving points; you will not be bored. Keep going out onto the shore line and watch for the mullet run to the ocean waters where they are spawning millions of mullet babies now through February. Look for jumping silver-bellied fish, and dark-backed schools of mullet running the waves. I actually saw some cut the curl.
Beyond Margaritaville you’ll capture the attitude of the latitude for certain.