Fort Walton Beach has a vibrant history of piracy, war and later, tourism. Pirates took advantage of its convenient location from the 16th through the 19th centuries. The Civil War later left its mark on the community. Fort Walton Beach was formally known as Brooks Landing in 1868. The area's name was changed to Camp Walton for the Walton Guards, who had a Civil War encampment in the community. This encampment helped to establish the area's long military tradition in addition to giving the town its name. In 1932, the town was renamed because of the discovery of a Civil War cannon in an Indian mound in what is now the community's downtown area. Eglin Air Force Base was established in 1937 when Fort Walton Beach was incorporated as a municipality.
An exciting attraction in Fort Walton Beach is the Indian Temple Mound and Museum, located in historic downtown. The museum features tours and exhibits. It also houses the nation's largest collection of prehistoric Southeastern Indian ceramics. The Emerald Coast Science Center and the skating center are favorite attractions as well. Residents enjoy shopping at historic downtown or at the indoor shopping mall that has more than 100 stores.
A gamut of marine animals performs at Fort Walton Beach's Gulfarium, the second largest marine park in the nation. Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, Ridley turtles, California sea lions and Peruvian penguins are the park's highlights. Fort Walton Beach hosts many annual events including the Sprint Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival and a holiday Christmas parade.
The city's Parks and Recreation Department offers many programs to residents. These include dance, cheerleading, martial arts, ceramics and sports. In addition to enjoying outdoor fun at the city's many parks, residents also enjoy a variety of activities at nearby Henderson Beach State Park in Destin and Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park near Eglin Air Force Base. Locals fish, boat, hike and camp along the gorgeous white sand beaches of Henderson Beach State Park, which features approximately 6,000 feet of shoreline. Residents pursue similar activities at Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park. Blackwater River State Park, north of town, is another favorite recreational destination. Ideal for canoeing and hiking, the park boasts one of the world's purest sand bottom rivers.
Post-secondary students pursue higher education at a variety of colleges and universities in the surrounding area. Okaloosa-Walton Community College and the University of West Florida at Fort Walton Beach are the closest schools. Pensacola Junior College and University of West Florida in Pensacola are about 40 miles away. Several Alabama schools like the University of South Alabama at Baldwin are about 80 miles away.
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