Ceded to the War Department by the U.S. Forestry Service in 1940, the 800 square miles of Gulf Coast shoreline and pine forests became a major site for gunnery and bombing practice during World War II. Remnants of test bombs from Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle's B-25 squadron following the attack on Pearl Harbor are believed to exist in the park and a concrete bomb is thought to have been one dropped by his squadron. After the war, urban development made the area unusable as a bombing range.
In the late 1950s, Colonel Fred Gannon, Director of Civil Engineering at Eglin Air Force Base, proposed to convert the range into a public area. The Engineering group began the initial construction of the park under his direction following his proposed designs for the proposed park. In 1966, shortly after completion of the road and trail work, the lands were purchased by the state and became part of the Florida State Park system.