SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WMBB)– The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection are investigating after trees were illegally cut down at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park over the weekend.
A video circulating on social media shows the activity and homeowners in the area said they witnessed the destruction first hand.
Walton County resident Garrett Barry said he was on his balcony, overlooking the state park on Friday afternoon. He began to hear what sounded like power tools.
He assumed it was a neighbor working in their garage, but then he heard the noise again on Saturday evening..
“I got my binoculars and to my surprise, I see a tree topple over,” Barry said.
Barry then went with his neighbor, Bill Potter, who is a volunteer at the park, to investigate.
“Once I entered the preserved, I went back to the area where the sound was coming from, and again it sounded like some kind of electric power tool,” Potter said.
He asked if the people worked for Topsail, and one claimed they did. Potter did not believe them however and began to try to stall in an attempt to wait for law enforcement.
Potter then grabbed the suspect’s chain saw before they fled the scene.
“It’s very disappointing when someone is doing something that they know fundamentally is wrong,” Potter said.
The Florida Wildlife Commission and the Florida Department of Environmental protection have confirmed that this was illegal cutting.
The FWC is asking anyone with information to call their hotline at 888-404-3922.
The Cypress Dunes Home Owners Association Board of Directors has released the following statement:
“Our community is distraught at there recent desecration within the Topsail Hill Preserve,an area that is to be respected and protected. To learn that it was individuals from within our neighborhood who are responsible for this has overwhelmed us with shock and dismay.
While these individuals have been respected members of our neighborhood for many years, please know that their actions go against the values and ideals of our community.
We have chosen to make this our home because we hold a reverence for its natural beauty and make it a priority to protect and preserve this environment in every way we can.
Many in our community are committed volunteers who serve and are devoted to the Park.
We will continue to do so now as we look for ways to rebuild and repair the damage done within Topsail.
We will cooperate fully with all authorities, and have no doubt these individuals will be brought
to justice. Please know we are committed to helping in any way possible to
remediate the damage that has been done and will actively find ways to be good neighbors and supporters of the Park.”