We’re now going to present our in-process designs for a pedestrian path and these four sites.  These are big, loose, conceptual ideas for the improvement of these places that we came up with based on our visit in May, and our own research and brainstorming since leaving.  These ideas are very much in progress, and we’ve revisited and refined some them even since returning to the area the last couple days and taking another first hand look at the sites. We very much want your feedback, to help us revise and strengthen these designs.

Pedestrian Path:

The first of our proposals is a pedestrian pathway, which would run between the north parking lot at Bay Bluffs Park and Mallory Heights.  This would be a trial run at having a pedestrian path along Scenic Highway, which is a strategy that has been successful in other areas, for example in Sarasota.  If the path proves to be as safe and well-used as we think it will be, it can be expanded into a longer route.

The reason we think this initial segment is important is that there is currently no safe way to walk between the north and south parking lots at Bay Bluffs, so that if you park at one lot and walk the boardwalk, you have no safe way of returning to your car except to walk the boardwalk again.  This picture shows us demonstrating the informal route between lots, and you can see that it isn’t very comfortable or safe for pedestrians.  In order to provide comfort and safety we would add some sort of buffer along the path, be it plantings, fence, or grass strip.

Mallory Heights:

The path would also allow access to Mallory Heights Park, which is technically a city park, but has restrictions upon what can be designed.  There can be no parking or built structures, so we thought about ways to create seating or picnic areas without using and sort of pavilion or traditional picnic tables.  Instead we imagine using boulders and/or logs to create seating that would allow people to enjoy the view and watch for wildlife, but that would look as if they might be there naturally.  We propose a series of native, yet formal, plantings along the highway, which would give beauty and a sense of being cared for, and would also buffer the new park from traffic. We have avoided proposing anything for the area directly south of this new picnic area, because there is already a restoration plan in place for mitigating a major slump of the bluff that occurred  recently.

South Bay Bluffs:

We’re really interested in building the connection between Mallory Heights and Bay Bluffs along the highway.  With this area being right in the middle of our proposed pedestrian pathway, we see this as a valuable stopping point, not only for those walking along the path from the south, but also for those walking up the boardwalk from the north.
We are recommending closing one driveway entrance at this stopping point on the highway, partly because we aren’t sure if both entrances are necessary, but also because it provides an additional opportunity for seating and picnicking.  Additionally, this would decrease the amount of paving, providing us with more space to plant native trees and shrubs and decrease the amount of storm water flowing down the bluffs at this point.

North Bay Bluffs:

As we travel along the highway, our next stopping point is North Bay Bluffs.  We’ve actually had a couple of different ideas about how this spot could be improved upon with a few slight adjustments to its current configuration.
Initially, when we visited the site, we really wanted to highlight this intersection as a major opportunity for those coming from the west.  This would be the first impression of the highway for anyone coming from the airport or from the neighborhoods to the west, and therefore it makes sense to create a sense of entry here into something special.  We’d like to really highlight this entrance in the park, by creating new signage and using native perennial flowers and shrubs in a way that really announces the presence of both the park and the highway.

We thought it might make sense to create two smaller parking lots here, rather than one large one.  We would create one lot to the south, and one to the north, separated by a landscaped entryway, in order to provide some open space in front of the main deck overlook.

We’d also like to improve upon the existing open space at the southern end by creating a nicer picnic and seating area.
There has also been some suggestion of creating a new exercise station space near the parking area on the northern end.

We are also proposing planted medians along many places along the highway, which are not only a traffic calming feature, but can also be a sense of refuge for pedestrians crossing the highway.
Since revisiting this park on our trip, we started to think that it might actually make more sense to create a single entrance directly at this intersection using the traffic light itself to control entry into the park, rather than having an uncontrolled entry on either side.  We noticed the traffic getting into and out of the park at either entrance can be very busy at times and even feels dangerous pulling out of the parking areas into traffic.

Summit Boulevard:

Summit Boulevard really feels like an important connection between Pensacola and the Scenic Highway.  We thought this was a good opportunity to extend the character of the highway into the surrounding neighborhoods by using similar landscaping and plantings.

We also noticed a lack of sidewalks along this road, and would really like to see this area made into a safe path for pedestrian access to the highway and park system.

Chimney Park:

This is our design for Chimney Park.  As with the south entrance of Bay Bluffs, we’ve proposed closing off the southern entrance and having traffic both enter and exit from the northern one.  This will eliminate what seems like a bit of a confusing entrance near this intersection, this space can then be used to extend the lawn area. We’re proposing vegetating the median in the middle of the road so that pedestrians crossing from the west have a point of refuge, and we’d like to eliminate the sidewalk on the existing parking lot median that doesn’t seem to go anywhere currently.  We’d like to place a gazebo, or kiosk on this extended lawn area near the parking lot to showcase the history surrounding Old Chimney and possibly historical information about other sites along the highway as well.  We’d like to increase the number of shade trees in this area north of the chimney to make seating there more comfortable, and to provide a buffer to traffic on the highway.  We’re also proposing opening up this currently densely vegetated area to the north by removing invasive species, and increasing the open park area in that direction as well.  Another phase of the redesign for this site could entail the installation of a small footbridge over an existing drainage channel that runs along here, and the extension of the path to create a loop through this more forested area, with selective clearing of a few places off the trail for more seating, or picnic areas.

We’d also suggest the thinning of vegetation in this area to create sight-lines from the highway, thus keeping it from being too secluded and potentially unsafe.

One last idea that we’d like your feedback on is the possibility of also making this a park that showcases the train and railroad, rather than simply trying to hide it — its presence in the park will be quite prominent no matter what we do, the rail line is a defining characteristic of the entire coast of the Escambia Bay along Scenic Highway, and given the interest and excitement that trains elicit in a lot of people, we wonder if this park is an opportunity to capitalize on that.

Park and Ride:

This is an area we see as an important “first impression” point on Scenic Highway.  The county owns this property, so we’re not proposing any seating here aside from what already exists in this kiosk that’s already on the property.  We’ve already suggested a viewshed here that would open views out onto the bay; we’re also proposing planting beds composed of native and ornamental planting that will stagger in bloom time and in seasonal interest to provide year-round visual appeal.  At these corners, the entry and exit to the Park & Ride, we propose more formal, entryway plantings and signs that will alert drivers to the beginning of Scenic Highway.  We’d also like to do some simple landscaping in a vegetated median that runs parallel to the entrance of the Park & Ride.