SHIP ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - Ship Island Excursions kicks off its new season this weekend with the first boat rides to that popular barrier island.
For more than three generations now, the Skrmetta family has operated the business that takes tourists and locals to Ship Island.
Friday, last minute preparations were underway to welcome this year's visitors.
Ship Island is a busy place this day before opening weekend. Park service crews use heavy equipment to relocate sand which got displaced by last year's storm.
Inside the snack bar, employees clean the kitchen and re-stock food and other supplies.
"I think we're going to have an outstanding season. I really do. I think this will be the best season since Katrina," said Captain Louis Skrmetta with Ship Island Excursions.
The island itself weathered the winter quite well.
Longtime beach attendant, Minnesota Steve, is most excited about the larger beach area.
The island is ever changing and over the winter, Mother Nature saw fit to restore much of the sand which had previously washed away.
"This beautiful, white sand is what just thrills me. I've been so excited to come here and find God gave us back our beach with all this beautiful white sand," said Steve Barbknecht.
While Mother Nature helped restore the south beach, on the north shoreline there's an ongoing manmade effort to try and maintain this portion of shoreline.
An Army Corps of Engineers project included the planting of thousands of young sea grass plants and the installation of erosion control fencing to keep the sand in place.
Ship Island is ready to welcome hikers and fishermen and photographers and sun seekers.
Just eleven miles from the mainland, the beauty and solitude found on this island, make it seem like a world away.
"Especially this time of year when it's so cool. There's so many shells out here in the Spring. And the beaches are so beautiful this year. People love it and we're just excited about this new year," said Skrmetta.
Passengers who ride the "Captain Pete" excursion boat will get to the island about 15 minutes faster this year.
During the off season, the 105 foot ferry boat was equipped with a brand new engine system.
The $200 thousand-plus investment made the boat faster and more fuel efficient, with lower emissions.