The Intracoastal Waterway, navigable toll-free shipping route, extending for about 3,000 miles (4,800 km) along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico coasts in the southern and eastern United States. It utilizes sounds, bays, lagoons, rivers, and canals and is usable in many portions by deep-draft vessels. The route is federally maintained and is connected to inland waterways in many places. It was originally planned to form a continuous channel from New York City to Brownsville, Texas, but the necessary canal link through northern Florida was never completed; hence, it is now in two separate sections—the Atlantic and the Gulf.
The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway serves ports from Boston to Key West, Fla. The route is linked by several essential man-made canals, including the Cape Cod, Chesapeake and Delaware, and Chesapeake-Albemarle. The lowest controlling depth is 6.1 feet (1.9 m) in the Dismal Swamp Canal of Virginia and North Carolina. During World War II, the route became important as a means of avoiding the submarine menace along the coast. Commercial traffic (oceangoing vessels and barges) serves the heavily concentrated industrial areas north of Norfolk, Va; whereas, to the south, the waterway accommodates mainly pleasure craft traveling to the Florida resort areas.
The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway serves ports for more than 1,100 miles (1,800 km) between Brownsville, Texas, and Apalachee Bay, Fla. It lies mainly behind barrier beaches and provides a 150-foot-wide, 12-foot-deep channel. At its eastern end, the waterway is not directly connected with its Atlantic counterpart, except via the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the 6-foot-deep Okeechobee Waterway in southern Florida. The heaviest commercial activity is centred at New Orleans and extends eastward to the Black Warrior–Tombigbee river system at Mobile Bay, Ala., and westward to the major Texas ports. The Plaquemine–Morgan City Waterway provides direct connection west of New Orleans with the extensive Mississippi River valley system of inland waterways, and the Harvey Lock at New Orleans furnishes a direct entrance to the Mississippi River. Part of the Gulf route at New Orleans consists of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, an artificial waterway that is the axis of a major industrial district. Among the principal items moved on the route are petroleum and its products, industrial chemicals, pipe and other supplies for the oil fields, and sulfur.
The Intracoastal Waterway was instramental in forming Perdido Key, Florida. It now runs north of the Key for approximately 16 miles separating the island from the mainland. Perdido Key Marina is located along the Intracoastal Waterway just to the west of the Theo Baars Bridge that connects the island to southwest Escambia County, Florida.
Perdido Bay is said to have once had an estimated 300 natural springs bubbling up from the sandy bottom. There were so many around the site of the nearby Lillian Bridge that when construction began, bridge engineers were appalled to see pilings sinking down below the surface, following the soft course of a natural spring. They had to devise a solution, which was building cofferdams to shore up the pilings to prevent them from sinking.
Circa 1933 Perdido Key became an island. Before then, the area was a small Peninsula just to the west of Pensacola, Florida. It was crossed by a large ditch that was narrow enough to jump across, and sometimes filled with large alligators. This ditch was improved and widened in 1933 to become part of the Intracoastal Waterway that now follows between Perdido Key to the south and Innerarity Island to the north – neither of which are incorporated.
The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) connecting Pensacola to Mobile Bay was started during 1931 during the “Great Depression”. The digging that would connect Pensacola’s Big Lagoon (also know as “Grande Lagoon” Mobile Bay was completed in 1933. Perdido Key is now a 16 mile long island with almost 60% of it’s (9.5 square miles) protected by federal or state parks.
In 1978 the “National Park Service” completed purchase of over 1,000 acres of land on Perdido Key from Johnson Beach to Pensacola Pass for about $8 million. For years this area was called Gulf Beach, and since has evolved into being called Perdido Key. Many “old timers” still slip and call the area Gulf Beach, but Perdido Key is the name that is officially recognized by the State of Florida.