Boat Tours Return To Ship Island

It's the final dry run before the Skrmetta Family kicks off their 80th year operating Ship Island Excursions .

"Yes, this is the only game in town," says Captain Kenny Skrmetta. "Everything south of the tracks, tourist attraction wise, is gone."

It promises to be a year unlike any other in Skrmetta's recent memory.

"I can barely remember after Camille, but this is what it was like, you know. You've got to start from scratch, and just rebuild the economy and the tourism."

On board are employees and volunteers, who want to spruce up the hurricane-battered, but still breathtaking, island paradise. But what they and others have already done pales in comparison to what remains.

"We had a ranger station with a first aid room," says Park Ranger Adam Prato. "We had rest rooms. We had a snack bar. At the south end of the boardwalk there were showers down there and more rest rooms, shaded picnic areas. All that is gone. Running water, sewage, electricity... we don't have any of that out here right now."

The one thing the island does have is the only water on the coast that's safe for swimming.

"Just be careful," warns Prato. "There's going to be a lot of debris out there still washing up from time to time."

Jack Madison has been a volunteer tour guide at Fort Massachusetts for years. He says he's not surprised the historic attraction stood up to Katrina.

"I knew everything else may be gone after Katrina, but I felt like the fort would still be here," says Madison. "It is."

But he says he would be surprised if visitors don't come flooding back, despite the hardships.

"We'll be here to share our history of the Gulf Coast and the Island, as well as the Fort."

Visitors are reminded to not take any glass containers to the island. And they are advised to bring their own food, water, sunblock, and other personal necessities.