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Boat Charter Company Blackwater Bay Tours Introduces Passengers To A Little-Explored Corner Of Florida’s Northwest Coast

When Ken Ponsell takes his 24-foot pontoon boat out, he can’t say for sure what he’ll encounter. 

Blue heron, egrets, and ducks are likely candidates. Gators lounge in the Yellow River, but not the Blackwater River. The jackpot is sighting bald eagles, osprey, and a few bottlenose dolphins.  

For Ponsell, any day on the water is a good day. He launched Blackwater Bay Tours in 2016 to offer people the chance to explore this unique area via two- and four-hour boat rides. “There’s nothing like being on a pristine river, surrounded by wildlife,” Ponsell says. “It’s a joy to share nature with others.”  

History and Wildlife, Water-bound

Two hundred years ago, Santa Rosa County was the heartbeat of Florida’s economy, thanks to one commodity: timber. 

Here, longleaf yellow pine was king: It grew around the Blackwater Basin, the tributaries of which offered unparalleled access to important shipping hubs. By 1840, Florida was exporting more lumber than any other region, much of it destined for Europe. Then, after nearly 100 years, the trees were gone, having all been felled. The region’s economy downshifted until World War II, when it became a military hub. 

Ponsell shares this history with passengers as they glide along the waterways in one of his two luxury pontoons. Here and there, relics from the old mills emerge from the water like souvenirs from Florida’s past. “I never embraced history in school, but once I started living it and feeling it, it was different than reading about it in a book,” says Ponsell, who goes by Captain Ken. 

Born and raised in Jacksonville, Ponsell’s been driving boats since he was 10. After a career move, he came to Milton. “I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven with all this water around us,” he says.  He and his wife, Cindie, started learning about the Blackwater Basin's rich history and would take their boat out to explore the area and watch the sunset. Cindie took hundreds of pictures. They were often the only ones out there. 

It was while volunteering at a local event that Ponsell had the idea for a charter boat business. He was taking people out on his pontoon; many of them had never explored the waterways, and they loved the experience. He thought, “Why not make this a business?” Ponsell acquired his captain’s license and outfitted two pontoon boats—the rest is Blackwater River Basin history. 

Today, passengers from all over the world come to explore this unique pocket of the Florida Panhandle. Tours run all year long, weather permitting. Ponsell will organize boat rides that cater to a guest’s interests, be it birding, wildlife spotting, sunset gazing, or even watching a Blue Angels air show from the water. Sometimes, the best experiences are unplanned—like the time a pod of dolphins zoomed around Ponsell’s boat for a good 30 minutes. “It was a treat,” he recalls. “You never know what you’ll see out there.” 

Contact Info:
Name: Ken Ponsell
Email: Send Email
Organization: Black Water Bay Tours
Address: 7374 Bain Drive Milton, FL 32583
Phone: 850-463-5943

Release ID: 89133275

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