Sugary white sand is now covering the shorelines of Florida’s most popular state park.
Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin is the most visited park of the state’s 171 parks and trails and has been for the last several years.
Last summer, however, the northern shore was closed while crews worked to repair erosion. The project was completed in the fall and now beachgoers are finally getting to enjoy the benefits.
“It's probably one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever seen,” Pam Coniglio said.
As part of a $4.6 million project, crews installed three new T-groins extending like jetties from the beach into the Gulf of Mexico to slow the erosion process. They also filled in the once rock-covered beach with sugary white sand. Pinellas County originally paid for that cost but it was later reimbursed by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“This is my first time coming here since it's been renovated, and I have to say, wow,” Nicole Mesi said.
Now that the beach has a new makeover, it's expected to bring more tourism and jobs to the area. Dan Wilder, manager for the cafes on Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island State Park, says during busy season he has to hire double the workers to meet demand.
“The hotter it gets, the busier we get,” he said.
Whether they’re serving up hotdogs and fries or sandwiches and snacks, the people coming here to honeymoon cafe are keeping orders ringing at the register.
According to data provided by Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater regarding the economic value of Pinellas County Beaches, tourism brings an economic gain of $2.5 million to Honeymoon Island per year. Seventy-two percent of visitors to the county are beachgoers, generating a more than $4.5 billion dollar economic impact and creating 47,000 jobs.
“If it wasn’t for the beaches, none of us would have a job,” Wilder said.
"It’s all the restaurants, hotels, recreational activities, and beach vendors that benefit from the increase in tourism. Their business relies on it,” said Coastal Manager Andy Squires with Pinellas Environment Management.
Beach manager Chris Green says he could use a hand putting out beach chairs and umbrellas.
“We’re always hiring,” he said.
Visit St. Pete just finished tourism campaigns in Boston, Chicago and New York, where people like Pam Caniglio vacation in Florida. While its snowing at her home in Buffalo, New York, she says she’ll gladly contribute to the economy.
“If they were in a hardship place where they couldn’t find something, at least now they have employment,” she said.
With summer approaching managers say they’re going to be looking for more people to fill opportunities. If you are interested in a job at Honeymoon Island State Park click here.