Real estate entrepreneur Gary R. Gibbs lives on the Emerald Coast in the middle of what can only be described as an outdoors man’s paradise. A resident of Niceville, Florida, Gary R. Gibbs lives some 40 miles away from Camp Helen State Park, one of the areas hidden jewels.
Camp Helen State Park’s modern story began in the 1800s after a Native American attack on a stranded schooner. Early in the century, local lore reported that the schooner was led by a man with the name Phillips although sources do not specify whether it was his first or last name. The sole survivor of the attack-also unknown-contributed to naming the location Phillip’s Inlet on Lake Powell.
Sometime after the 1900s, the area would become developed after residents would find the area attractive to this cozy spot. By the 1920s, the McCaskill Investment Co. in nearby Defuniak Springs would begin developing the Inlet Beach Hotel near Camp Helen’s current location, but the project would not be completed because of the untimely demise of the company’s owner. Instead, the family turned the lodge into the family home until it was sold in the early 1940s.
However, Camp Helen would not come into being until 1945 when the Avondale Mills, a cotton manufacturer, purchased it to use as a camp for its employees. After moving from its original location at Tyndall Air Force Base, the new Camp Helen featured duplexes and a recreation hall, and later in the 1950s, a fishing pier was added. Here, employees could boat, fish, play volleyball and basketball, and engage in a host of mostly outdoor activities.
In 1996, Florida purchased the park, opening it 1997 as a state park. Today, visitors can have an amalgam of experiences such as fishing, hiking the inlet, paddling, etc. Ultimately, the secluded, green area makes for a great place to picnic, relax, and regroup.