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EXTENSION CONNECTION: The history of Choctawhatchee Bay

The Choctawhatchee Bay spans 30 miles, nearly the width of Okaloosa and Walton counties, and has played a major role in the development of the area.

Salt marsh areas line the Choctawhatchee Bay.

A fascinating article from 1985, Historical Remembrances of the Choctawhatchee Bay, was recently posted on one of my favorite websites, waltonoutdoors.com. The article is a compilation of interviews from five people who lived in the area in the early 1900s.

These locals describe the booming timber and turpentine industries, which relied on the bay to get product to Pensacola, and the plentiful fisheries, both fresh and salt, that sustained many families during the Great Depression. They also share their experiences and opinions about how the bay has changed over the decades.

A fisherman cast nets for mullet on the Choctawhatchee Bay.

One of the most significant events that they recall is the storm in 1929, when heavy spring rains flooded the bay. In a desperate attempt to ease the flooding, several locals wielded hoes and dug a trench across Santa Rosa Island.

This small trench quickly widened into the East Pass we have today, connecting Choctawhatchee Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting increase in salt water entering the bay significantly changed not only the grass beds, but also the fish, oysters and shrimp that relied on them.

The article gives a brief peek into the life of locals in the early 1900s. It reminded me of one of my favorite places to visit, The Destin History and Fishing Museum. The museum is where I first learned about the history of Destin, its founding families and the fishing and working waterfront industries that developed Destin into the tourist mecca it is today.

A Great Blue Heron hunts the shoreline of the Choctawhatchee Bay.

I encourage everyone to take time to read the article and schedule a visit to the museum sometime soon to learn more about the Choctawhatchee Bay and its impact on our local area. It is a great place to spend a couple of hours during your holiday break.

Laura Tiu

Laura Tiu is an agent at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension office in Crestview.

This article originally appeared on Crestview News Bulletin: EXTENSION CONNECTION: The history of Choctawhatchee Bay