HOLT — Local businessman Ronnie Watts’ idea of having the Air Force open Range Road 236 between Fort Walton Beach and Holt to the public with no restrictions has the full backing of area residents such as Stephanie Shipp.
“It would be a really good thing,” Shipp said during one of her recent shifts at the deli inside Brown’s Grocery on U.S. Highway 90 in Holt. “The traffic from Fort Walton Beach to Crestview is so busy, even in the afternoon.”
Another road between Fort Walton Beach and the central part of Okaloosa County would be helpful, agreed Crestview resident Tiger Wright, a construction worker who was visiting Brown’s.
He said the county’s planned southwest Crestview bypass project “is going to add traffic” congestion to the area rather than ease it. County officials say the bypass will decrease traffic jams on busy State Road 85.
The two-lane Range Road 236 extends between Lewis Turner Boulevard on the north side of Fort Walton Beach to just south of the Yellow River in Holt. The road’s far south end is just a few miles west of the four-lane SR 85.
Watts said the range road connected with the north side of the river and was used by the public decades ago before a bridge that crossed the waterway collapsed.
Reopening the route to everyone, with no restrictions, would need the Air Force’s approval. Too, the road would have to be repaved, a roughly 2-mile section of road just south of the river would have to be built, and a new bridge would have to be installed, Watts said.
Still, all of those tasks would be less expensive than the county’s bypass project, he said.
The bridge that long ago crossed the Yellow River near Holt can still be seen today. It stands like a big, rusty conversation piece on a riverbank at the appropriately-named River’s Edge RV Campground at 4001 Log Lake Road.
The bridge’s current location is next to where it used to cross the river, campground employee Tonya O’Brien and local resident Brandy Melvin said recently. Today, the river is much wider than it was when the bridge was in operation.
“That’s Log Lake Road, right there,” Melvin said as she pointed from the campground office to the adjacent dirt road. “Holt used to be a logging town. Once (the timber industry) died, Holt died.”
According to the 1969 publication, “A History of Holt” by Max Cooper, Holt became a “thriving little town” in the 1910s and was incorporated in 1913.
“However, being a real city was found to be ‘too much trouble’ and Holt was unincorporated in 1914,” Cooper wrote.
Melvin, who has lived in Holt for four years, said she has enjoyed some bumpy, off-road driving in a Jeep on the south side of the Yellow River where the old bridge once led to.
When told about Watts’ vision of getting the range road open to the public and connecting with the north side of the river, Melvin scoffed.
“Good luck,” she said, smiling. “No doubt, traffic is bad in Crestview, but I don’t know if he could ever do it.”
O’Brien hopes Watts’ idea takes hold, however.
“I support it because we have a lot of military people and contractors who live here” and would use the range road, she said.
Hurricane evacuees, as well as local seniors who have to go to Fort Walton Beach to see their doctors, also would benefit from that route, O’Brien said. So too, she added, would her sister, who often must deal with bumper-to-bumper traffic on SR 85 while she commutes from Crestview to Fort Walton Beach on the way to her job in Destin.
At the more than 400-acre DCD Land and Cattle ranch in Holt, ranch worker Joel Urra also expressed support for making the range road a public one.
“It would help 150% if you can avoid all that traffic on 85,” said Urra, who added that he waits until midnight, when the roads are not crowded, to shop at Walmart in Crestview.