Florida Audubon seeking shorebird stewards for area state parks

Three snowy plover eggs just above the shoreline at Grayton Beach State Park. Photo courtesy Jeff Talbert

Do you like the beach? Do you want to help our coastal wildlife survive? Become a part of the statewide efforts to help protect Florida’s beach-nesting shorebirds.

It’s that time of year again when Florida’s rare shorebirds are nesting on our beaches and bird stewards are needed. Did you know beach-nesting birds like Snowy Plovers, Black Skimmers, American Oystercatchers and Least Terns lay their eggs on top of the sand and raise their young on our local beaches? Chicks less than 6 inches tall can be seen feeding along dunes, coastal lakes and the tidal zone.

While they are adapted to survive this harsh environment of sun, sand, and salt with protection from their parents, chicks and eggs struggle to survive when beach-goers inadvertently flush parents from their nests. Left exposed to the harsh sun and predators, one disturbance can spell disaster for these vulnerable chicks. Florida Park Service, Audubon Florida, FWC, DOD, USFWS, volunteers, and other partners all work together with communities to help these species survive.

Audubon staff is seeking stewards for Grayton Beach State Park, Deer Lake State Park, Camp Helen State Park and St. Andrews State Park. To get involved, pleaase contact Bonnie Samuelsen at [email protected] (850-866-7152).

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Walton County Memorial Day services May 29

gumcreekcemetery3Gum Creek Cemetery DeFuniak Springs
8 a.m.

Gum Creek Cemetery, one of the oldest in Walton County, is thought to be at least 160 years old. As such, it marks the final resting place of veterans from American’s wars all the way back to the early 19th Century, with 12 known Civil War veterans and one confirmed Seminole War veteran. There are many veterans from 20th century conflicts, from World War I throughout the Korean War, buried in the cemetery as well.

This year’s speaker will be Elizabeth Stanley, who served as a Lieutenant in Viet Nam 1971-72 as a nurse. Ms. Stanley served her family as did her father who served as a pilot in World War II and Korea.

Gum Creek Cemetery is one of the oldest Cemeteries in Walton County serving our community for over 160 years. The Cemetery marks the final resting place of veterans’ from American wars all the way back to the early 19th Century, with 12 known Civil War Veterans and one Seminole War Veteran. There are many veterans from the 20th Century conflicts, from WWI through the Gulf War.

This service will also be dedicated to the memory of Don Wilkerson who held the first Gum Creek Cemetery Memorial Day Service some 22 years ago. The service began when Don Wilkerson and one other man raised the flag at the Cemetery on Memorial Day. Mr. Wilkerson was instrumental in maintaining this ceremony until his death in 2016.

For additional information contact Tom Baker at 850-333-2195.

Gum Creek Cemetery is located just off SR-83, north of DeFuniak Springs near Glendale.

Gulf Cemetery Santa Rosa Beach
10 a.m.

Florida celebrated its 100th birthday in 2014. The cemetery is located on land granted by the United States Government and signed by President Woodrow Wilson on June 17, 1914. The cemetery has a rich history tied to the local community. Many community leaders, veterans and other notable locals chose Gulf Cemetery to be their final resting place.

Gulf Cemetery is located on County Hwy. 393 South, Santa Rosa Beach.

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Old Nick’s Redfish Round Up 2017 tournament results

Matt Schoen and Bobby Weir took first place with their nice reds. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

The Old Nick’s Redfish Round Up on May 20 was the largest redfish tournament in the Florida Panhandle to date. With 75 teams entering the 12th annual event, anglers from across the panhandle competed for more than $15,000 in prize money.

1st Place – Bobby Weir & Matt Schoen; 14.8 lbs.
2nd Place – Fred Myers & Justin Leake; 14.26 lbs.
3rd Place – Trevor Taylor & Jon Morris; 13.13 lbs.
4th Place – Jack Foley & Kevin Harasin; 12.44 lbs.
5th Place – Blake Nelson & Fisher Nelson; 12.41 lbs.

Fisher Nelson and his dad Blake took fifth place. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

6th Place – Harvell/Goodhart; 11.41 lbs.
7th Place – Simon/Pelly; 11.25 lbs.
8th Place – Albrecht/Lane; 11.11 lbs.
9th Place – Spikes/Otte; 10.93 lbs.
10th Place – Brookins/Deese; 10.76 lbs.

Barkley/Broginez; 10.69 lbs.
Woodard/Landreth; 10.58 lbs.
Bryan/Bryan; 10.35 lbs.
Pevletic/Schroader; 9.87 lbs.
Hobbs/Donaldson; 9.83 lbs.
Sapp/Sapp; 9.35 lbs. (Youngest Team Angler- Brodie Sapp!)
Chase/Duncan; 8.68 lbs.
Chennaux/Mayo; 7.94 lbs.
Jones/Lockamy; 7.91 lbs.
Pouncey, Botelho; 7.19 lbs. (Local’s Choice Winners)
Little/Shervel; 7.08 lbs.
WIlson/Grice; 6.38 lbs.
Nelson/Nelson; 6.15 lbs. (Mystery Weight Winners – 6.25lbs)
Williams/Demass; 5.74 lbs.
Gautney/Burnett; 5.67 lbs.
Fretina/Fretina; 5.62 lbs.
Nick/Whiddon; 5.38 lbs (Spots Count Winners – 23 Spots)
Snisky/Clauson; 5.31lbs.
Voyles/Lavier; 5.16 lbs.
Johnson/Johnson; 5.05 lbs.
Miron/Retired John; 4.66 lbs.
Hollenhead/Gatlin; 4.52 lbs.
Ray/Ray; 3.7 lbs. (Smallest Two Winners)
Dykes/Brown; 1.97 lbs.
Liscomb/Stephens; 1.76 lbs.

A portion of the proceeds from the tournament benefited healthy local waterways via the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA). For more information about CBA and their mission, visit www.basinalliance.org.

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Nature lovers celebrate 25 years of South Walton conservation land

Outfall of Morris Lake at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

As our community  grows, many residents and visitors continue to be in awe of the extraordinary amount of recreation land we have in South Walton county. However, some newcomers have no idea how we acquired such a vast and beautiful landscape enjoyed by many.

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park and Point Washington State Forest almost didn’t happen. Thanks to the support from organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, an energetic group of advocates from 4-Mile Village, local conservation group Beach To Bay Connection, and passionate Santa Rosa Beach residents thank goodness it did, and it came down to an earnest, last minute effort by Nature Conservancy purchasing 15,000 acres of land on the Walton County courthouse steps on May 19, 1992.

“Twenty-five years ago today Point Washington State Forest was purchased along with the first parcel of land at Topsail Preserve. May 19 should be a national holiday in South Walton. Imagine the forest as developed, there were people back in 1992 who did. The small but mighty community spent years making sure thousands of acres of our forest and state parks were not sold or given to the county or developers,” said Celeste Cobena, Santa Rosa Beach resident and conservation advocate.

Cyclists enjoy the Point Washington State Forest. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

The history of the Topsail Hill Preserve State Park reads like a Carl Hiassen novel. Savings and loan disasters, shady transactions, foreclosures, and local government opposition dot the trail to what would eventually become a beloved jewel for Walton county residents and visitors:

1925 – Alfred duPont purchases land in South Walton for $11/acre.

1936 – St. Joe Paper Company is formed. Holdings in Topsail total 21,000 acres including six miles of beachfront.

1981 – Jacob Belin, St. Joe CEO, proposes turning Topsail Hill property into “The playground of America,” proposing a golf course and marina.

1984 – St. Joe Paper puts Topsail Hill land on market.

1986 – William Michael Adkinson, a Panhandle native turned developer, then living in Texas, Keith Alan Cox, a London attorney, and their associates offer to buy 20,800 acres under the company name Development Group Inc. for $182 million from St. Joe Paper. At the time it was the most expensive real estate deal in Florida’s history. Their marketing report showed big plans for the land: a barge port, condos, hotels, golf courses, airport, schools, theme park, and more. A portion of the mortgage was held by St. Joe Paper.

1987 – Development Group fails to make payment. Loans from Texas based Vision Banc and Hill Financial Savings in Pennsylvania fail. St. Joe Paper forecloses and regains possession of 780 acres of beachfront. The remaining acres are put under management of Resolution Trust Corp., (RTC), (the agency created to clean up the savings and loan institution mess), handling the aftermath of the savings and loan crisis that encompassed several institutions nationwide.

Leatherback turtle nest is 18 ft. across. Photo courtesy Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

1988 – Topsail Hill land is now comprised of approximately seven ownerships.

1989 – RTC files suit in U.S. District Court in Pensacola seeking foreclosure on the joint ventures’ Topsail holdings.

1990 – Florida Legislature passed of the landmark Preservation 2000 Act.  This act anticipated the sale of $3 billion in bonds over a ten-year period, $300 million per year, from 1991 – 2000.  The funds were to be given to the CARL program (50 percent), the Save Our Rivers programs of the five water management districts (30 percent), a newly-created Florida Communities Trust aimed at helping local governments (10 percent), 2.9 percent each to the Division of Recreation and Parks, the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, and the Division of Forestry to purchase inholdings and additions to State Parks, Wildlife Management Areas and State Forests, respectively, and finally 1.3 percent for recreational trails.

1990 – 1991- The Land Acquisition Advisory Council (LAAC) acquires several parcels and transfers tracts to the Save Our Coast (SOC) and Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL), state of Florida’s land buying program list.

1992 – 1994 – Nature Conservancy steps in with funding to purchase initial Topsail parcels and 15,000 acres of Pt. Washington State Forest from RTC on the Walton County courthouse steps. The Conservancy had been keeping a watchful eye on Topsail for close to a decade. Nature Conservancy sold it to the state through the Preservation 2000 land acquisition program.

Beachgoers at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

1992 – The Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund (Trustees) obtained title to the initial acquisition of Topsail’s 348.85 acres. The initial and subsequent acquisitions were funded through the CARL program. Subsequent acquisitions were funded through CARL program, and Preservation 2000 funds. Topsail was officially designated a state park.

1988-1992 Topsail Hill on the CARL (Conservation and Recreation Land) list ranked #2 for funding in 1992 – The primary management objective of the park is “the preservation of natural communities, significant physical features, and rare plant and animal species.” Secondary resource based recreation. “Extra care must be taken to minimize unnatural intrusions into the landscape.”

1996 – 1997 – TDC director Malcolm Patterson and Sandestin General Manger Jim Rester propose 3-100 car parking lots on beach at Topsail Hill Preserve- plan shelved due to community outcry.

1999-2004 – Several attempts by Noble House property owners (former owners of Cypress Dune subdivision) to gain an eastern access into Topsail Preserve for their property. This included a lawsuit against the state of Florida by the Noble House property owners in 1999.

2013 – Walton County commissioner Cindy Meadows, along with Walton County Tourist Development director Jim Bagby, and Cypress Dune homeowners meet with Florida Division of Recreation and Parks (DRP) to propose installing a neighborhood beach access inside Topsail Preserve State Park for the Cypress Dunes Subdivision.  The proposed boardwalk would of been 1,650 linear ft.

Editors note: Preserving this conservation land continues to be challenging for supporters. Developers, and even local government continue attempts to acquire parcels within the boundaries of this beloved paradise. We must continue to advocate its preservation and be steadfast in its protection.

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Health advisory issued for Morrison Springs

The Health Advisory is issued on May 17, 2017, for Morrison Springs. The Advisory is issued based on the criteria for fecal indicator bacteria.

This should be considered a potential health risk to the bathing public and swimming is not recommended. Samples taken are above the public health threshold for fecal indicator bacteria. Water quality exceedances are based upon the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recommended standard of no more than 61 Enterococci CFU/100mL, or 235 E. coli CFU/100mL in any single sample. Sample results for May 16, 2017, indicate 384 Enterococci CFU/100ml.

The water will be re-sampled next week. When re-sampling indicates that the water is within the satisfactory range, the advisory will be lifted.

The Florida Department of Health in Walton County monitors monthly water samples submitted by public bathing places during their operation season. The water samples are being analyzed for enteric bacteria (fecal coliform enterococci or E. coli) that normally inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and warm- blooded animals, and indicate the presence of pathogens which may cause swimming related diseases including gastrointestinal disease, ear and eye ailments, and skin rashes and infections. The presence of fecal indicator bacteria is an indication of fecal pollution, which may come from storm water runoff, domestic pets, wildlife, and human waste (sewage).

Sampling is also conducted by other county health departments at marine beaches and results can be found at Department of Health’s Beach Water Quality website at www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/beach-water-quality/index.html.

For more information, contact the Florida Department of Health in Walton County (850) 892-8021.

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Geocaching event at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park every Wednesday

Time: 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Topsail Hill State Park invites you to enjoy their “one of a kind” geocache program every Wednesday through Nov. 8. Visitors can check in at the Camp Store and pick up the geocache packet. This activity will take you to various points throughout the Preserve. Note: the hiking and biking trails are easy to moderate in difficulty, some are paved, sand and gravel, or hard pack.

What is Geocaching? It is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches,” at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world. Geocaching was originally similar to the 160-year-old game letterboxing, which uses clues and references to landmarks embedded in stories. Geocachers are free to take a treasure, or “swag” (except the logbook, pencil, or stamp) from the cache in exchange for leaving something of similar or higher value behind.

Enter the park through the main gate and park staff will direct you to the Camp Store, you will need a GPS or a smart phone capable with GPS.

Program Requirements

A $6.00 entry admission per vehicle into the park. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is located at 7525 W. Scenic Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida 32459. For more information, call (850) 267-8330 ::MAP::

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