Jones Park Changes Could Relocate Ship Island Ferry

We have a better idea what Jones Park could become. Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr released a drawing that shows how the waterfront area could be redesigned. It shows an ampitheater surrounded by trees in the center of the park. Gulfport City Council members will hear a presentation about Jones Park redevelopment plans next Tuesday.

Part of that plan relocates the Ship Island Excursions ferry boats.

After a year when just 19,000 passengers sailed on board a Ship Island Excursions vessel, Steven Skrmetta is encouraged about 2007. "My gut feeling is it's going to be better than we thought," he said, just before one of his family's passenger boats left Gulfport.

That boat was the Gulf Islander. This Saturday, it carries its first paying passengers of 2007. "Despite the hurricane, our brochures are disappearing. People are making inquiries," said Skrmetta.

And when they do, ticket sales manager Beverly Moran answers their questions. "A lot of our repeat customers are coming back," she's noticed. "And a lot of people are coming into town and looking for something to do. And we're one of the few people that are open to give them something."

Thursday's maiden voyage of the Gulf Islander carried volunteers and National Park Service personnel out to Ship Island to clean the beach for the 2007 season. The Skrmetta's don't expect to reach pre-Katrina passenger counts this summer. However, "I've noticed the beach is dotted with people everyday. People are ready to get out of doors," said Skrmetta.

Moran thinks that's a sign of good things to come. "I think we'll do a lot better than we did last year," the ticket manager said.

How big a splash could they make? The Skrmettas are pretty sure doubling last year's passenger total is a real possibility. Captain Pete Skrmetta says that will still put boardings about 20,000 passengers below pre-hurricane levels. But it will give his family some optimism about the high seas adventure they're about to take.

Ship Island Excursions first sailed out to the barrier island in 1926. Initially, Ship Island Excursions will sail every Wednesday through Sunday. Once the summer season begins May 19th, the ferry will carry passengers to and from Ship Island seven days a week.