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Author: Hunter Morrison

Facility to bring more reptiles to Emerald Coast Zoo


The reptile house will also be home to a Taipan, the world’s most venomous snake.
“There’s not very many reptile facilities in this area,” said Rick de Ridder, owner of the Emerald Coast Zoo. “I think that’s what this area needs, is more education on what snakes are.”

Known as Rick the Reptile Guy, a nickname given to him by the late Steve Irwin, de Ridder has entertained and educated millions on television by starring in the A&E series “Wild Transport.” He hopes that this new addition to the Emerald Coast Zoo will continue to educate and inspire the community about reptiles.
“The goal is to educate the public about how cool reptiles are, that they’re not these big, scary creatures,” de Ridder said. He added that the reptile house was designed with an open entrance so that people can walk into or near the enclosure without feeling trapped.

“I try to make a pretty big deal of not scaring people with reptiles but showing them how cool they are,” de Ridder said.

The Emerald Coast Zoo is currently home to crocodiles, alligators, monitors, snakes and other reptiles. The zoo is also home to Gertie, a tortious who weights over 600 pound and is 109 years old.
“We want to get Guinness World Records out here, I might have a record-breaking tortoise,” de Ridder said. “I also hope that I will have a record-breaking snake that’s over 20 feet long and over 300 pounds, and the biggest croc monitors in the U.S.”

De Ridder, an avid collector of reptiles, has reptiles in care all across the United States. The reptile house will bring some of his collection to Crestview.

Since taking ownership of the Emerald Coast Zoo in 2017, de Ridder has overseen growth and improvement of the facility. This includes adding bigger and better enclosures to house the animals.
“You get closer to the animals than most places, I think that’s what separates us a bit,” de Ridder said. “We do a lot of encounters with different animals. We live here, it’s like they’re all our family members.”

Like many organizations and businesses, the Emerald Coast Zoo has struggled to find the skilled labor to construct the reptile house. With the help of his son, de Ridder hopes that this reptile facility will be among the best in the world.

“I’m pretty sure I can change anybody’s mind to make them maybe not love reptiles as much as I do, but not fear them anymore,” de Ridder said.

Although the reptile house is currently under construction, no opening date has been set. Still, de Ridder is excited to bring this new addition of the Emerald Coast Zoo to the people of northwest Florida.
“I hope that people will take away that God created these awesome creatures and that you can learn a lot from these reptiles,” de Ridder said. “They’re not these scary critters that people are afraid of.”

The Emerald Coast Zoo is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information about the zoo, call (850) 682-3949 or visit emeraldcoastzoo.com.

Crestview honors ‘one of the greatest Americans’

On Saturday morning, about 30 citizens gathered for an annual event in Crestview to honor the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Organized by the Concerned Citizens of Crestview, the event began with a march up Main Street and was followed by a ceremony at the Veterans’ Memorial.

Participants and speakers of this year’s event included Crestview Mayor JB Whitten, Police Chief Stephen McCosker and others. This is the first Martin Luther King Day event held in Crestview since before the pandemic.

“Dr. King created a powerful and enduring legacy for all Americans by calling upon our nation to ensure equal justice under law and uphold our founding ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people,” the mayor said. He issued a proclamation honoring a day of celebration and remembrance for Martin Luther King Jr. from Jan. 15-17.

Even though the weather was brisk, the mood of Saturday’s event was cheerful and optimistic. While marching up Main Street, citizens sang and rejoiced in King’s legacy.

“I believe that he [Dr. King] would be honored to know that throughout the world, his legacy is continuing on even though he’s not here,” said Clayton Williams, President of the Concerned Citizens of Crestview.

Clayton Williams speaks during the MLK Jr. program at the Veterans Memorial, as Mayor JB Whitten, right, listens. Photo by Hunter Morrison

During the ceremony, Rev. Benjamin Randolph of Beulah No. 1 Missionary Baptist Church delivered a sermon, challenging citizens to make a difference in their community. He hopes that citizens will remember King’s message of nonviolence.

“Dr. King was about peace,” Randolph said. “He was about doing things but doing them the right way and in a peaceful way. We must continue to do those things that are positive amongst us.”

Although the event saw citizens of all ages, many attendees were old enough to remember the trials and tribulations faced by King and people of color during the Civil Rights era. Some attendees recalled their experiences from those times.

“I grew up during that era of Civil Rights and I was out picketing and demonstrating,” said Felton Barnes, a longtime Crestview resident. “The reason to be able to drink out of the same water fountain, go to the same bathroom, eat at the same restaurant, sit in the same classroom, those are the things he picketed for. He was leading us in that kind of activity, so I highly honor him as an American.”

“I’m one of the few people around that grew up during that era,” Whitten said. “Martin Luther King was one of the finest Americans, one of the greatest Americans. He was fighting for injustices that were going on all over the United States.”

Even though King died over 50 years ago, citizens agree that his message of peace still holds true today. Many also agree that further civil rights work should continue in his honor.

“Even though he’s not here, he’s living in each in every person that believes in the work and the ongoing work that we are continuing,” Williams said. 


Citizens gather Jan. 15 and march up Main Street to honor the slain Martin Luther King Jr. Photo by Hunter Morrison.
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