Oriole Beach, Florida
Oriole Beach is an unincorporated community located in Santa Rosa County, Florida on Santa Rosa Sound. It lies east of Gulf Breeze, Florida along Santa Rosa Sound on the Fairpoint Peninsula. Oriole Beach is part of the Pensacola–Ferry Pass–Brent Metropolitan Statistical Area.
The main access road is U.S. Route 98, which runs east to west along the peninsula. The community has its roots as a beach cottage fishing retreat for the residents of Pensacola. Today, some of the original cement block beach cottages remain standing. They have survived many hurricanes.
About three miles south of Oriole Beach across Santa Rosa Sound is Pensacola Beach.
The community became more defined as permanent residents built homes mostly along Bay Street which runs along Santa Rosa Sound. Santa Rosa Sound carries the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway between Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach. Present day Bay Street follows an old Indian trail and subsequent logging road used to harvest naval live oak trees for the construction of civil war sailing ships by the Union Navy in the 1860s. The logging road connected to the Andrew Jackson Trail which linked Pensacola with Jacksonville, Florida. Highway 98's current route along the Fairpoint Peninsula follows the Andrew Jackson Trail.
As the naval live oaks were harvested, the cleared land was then planted and used as cow pastures. Sections of the pasture land along the shoreline of Santa Rosa Sound was preserved and became part of the Mazzeo Estate on which some of the original naval live oak trees continue to grow today. The logging trail was replaced by an oyster shell road bed, then surfaced by the State of Florida in the 1930s. Today, a part of that land has been acquired by the National Park Service and became the Naval Live Oaks Reservation, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
In 1985 a homeowners' association was founded in Oriole Beach; it facilitated the construction of many improvements, including a new boat ramp and bicycle path. The bicycle path is part of the W.D. Childers trail that loops approximately 28 miles around Santa Rosa Sound. In 2007 land was purchased by Santa Rosa County to construct additional trailer parking at the boat ramp.
Since 1985 the population has explosively increased with many new subdivisions being built along with a new firehouse and police station. The Oriole Beach Elementary school has also greatly expanded. The school is part of the Santa Rosa County School District which in 2006 was named the best performing school district in Florida, tied with its next door neighbor the Okaloosa County School District. The community developed mostly residential with a commercial strip along Highway 98.
Hurricane Ivan made landfall about 30 miles east of Oriole Beach in November 2004. The tidal surge was recorded at 12 feet and the sustained winds were in excess of 120 miles per hour. The Bay Street elevation of Oriole Beach is about 7.0 feet above mean sea level so some homes on grade were destroyed.
In February 2007 the Bay Street roadway was made three feet wider and about six inches higher by the Santa Rosa County Engineering Department. New home construction is now required by the County Land Development Code to be connected to a sanitary sewer force main rather than septic tanks, the practice before Hurricane Ivan. The City of Gulf Breeze supplies sanitary sewer and natural gas service to the community. Potable water is supplied by a private water system from two elevated tanks connected to local water wells.
TThere have only been a handful of private docks rebuilt since Hurricane Ivan. This is due in part to the very limited new construction of private homes coupled with a marked increase in ad valorum taxes and insurance rates that went into effect after Hurricane Ivan.
Due in part to escalating construction and insurance costs in the time since Hurricane Ivan only about 20 houses have been rebuilt along Bay Street. The houses are constructed on pilings in accordance with the revised county land development code. The commercial strip along US 98 remained intact but economic development has become limited in the community. One major shopping plaza remains abandoned and there remain many empty storefronts in the strip shopping centers along Highway 98. An existing Wal-Mart in nearby Tiger Point experienced a decrease in growth. Most of the community workforce commutes about 20 miles into Pensacola or a similar distance to Ft. Walton Beach or the Air Force base at Hurlburt Field. The Florida Department of Transportation has identified Highway 98 going through the community as a roadway to be expanded along with studies for a new Pensacola Bay Bridge.
No major tropical cyclones impacted Oriole Beach in 2006, and this allowed the community's flora to begin to reestablish itself. Most of the hurricane debris has been removed by Santa Rosa County with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant money. As of Spring 2007, a few structures and pine trees damaged by Hurricane Ivan remain to be demolished and removed.