Former WWII missile test launch facility home to diverse sand pine trails at Coffeen Nature Preserve
Host Guided tour – Nature Preserve
Contact: Susan Paladini at (850) 622-3700.
As many people buzz up and down U.S. Highway 98 in Santa Rosa Beach, few ever notice the small entrance signs to the Coffeen Nature Preserve and Four Mile Village. Nestled just east of Tops’l Beach and Racquet Resort and just west of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, however, is a 210-acre protected land trust chock full of local history.
Robert Busnell of Massachusetts purchased the parcel in his mother’s name, Mary in 1944. Although the land had already been timbered, he recognized the natural beauty of the rolling dunes and panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico.
However, shortly after purchasing the land it the Army/Air Force took acquisition of the land for a top-secret military operation.
Chosen for its elevated sand dune ridge, Coffeen became the testing site of the JB-2 missile, the America-built version of the famous German V-1 “buzz bomb” that destroyed thousands of lives in Great Britain during WWII. Click here to continue
Serenity awaits the nature lover at the Choctaw Lodge Bed and Breakfast
Bed and Breakfast located on the river
Contact Kathryn Hardy – (850) 835-1784 choctawlodgeretreat.com
When Ron and Kathryn Hardy of Panama City Beach walked into Sandi’s Feed and Seed in Lynn Haven back in 2009, they had little idea about how dramatically their lives were about to change.
Spotting a small index card on a bulletin board with a message “Riverfront Property For Sale,” the couple decided to find out more about an area they knew little about, the Choctawhatchee River.
Both of them grew up as “river rats,” according to Kathryn, who grew up along the Ocmulgee River in southeast Georgia and Ron near the Tensaw River in the Mobile River Delta in Alabama. After marrying, the couple would frequently go all the way to the Mobile area for their river weekend getaways.
The property for sale had nothing more than a small singlewide trailer situated right along the river. It did however, have a great porch with a spectacular view, and the couple were immediately taken – hook, line and sinker. They purchased the property and began spending every weekend on the river. Click here to continue
Head out to the Choctawhatchee River with Backwater Tours
Explore the waterways of the Choctawhatchee River with Andy Coleman of Backwater Tours. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors
Interested in exploring a tucked away crystal clear spring on the Choctawhatchee River? Head out and discover nature at its best on with a river cruise with Backwater Tours.
Captain Andy Coleman knows the Choctawhatchee River waterways and shares stories of its history as a major thoroughfare for logging and commerce. Living here and exploring the area since 1976, Capt. Andy will take you to some tucked away places only the locals know. One of those special places is a spring run with clear, cool water.
Explore the spring run on a YOLO board with Backwater tours. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors
The vessel is a 26 ½ ft. Panga that glides through the water smooth and easy. A a nature lover himself, Capt. Andy also enjoys exploring the water on a YOLO stand up paddle board. He will bring a few boards along to explore the crystal clear waters of a spring run.
The vessel can hold up to six adventurers, and snacks and drinks are provided. Four hour and two hour tours are available. The boat launches from the Point Washington boat ramp on CR395 in Santa Rosa Beach.
Expect to see a variety of wading birds, osprey, turtles, and maybe a gator or two. Head out and explore the real Florida with Backwater Tours.
Call YOLO Board Adventures to book a trip at 850-419-6188, or call Andy directly at 850-865-0420.
Take a fly fishing adventure with a master from Old Florida Outfitters
Guided tour – Fly fishing charters and instruction
Contact Jason Stacy at (850) 534-4343
In our fast paced world, it is reassuring to know that a few great sports stand the test of time. One popular ancient sport, fly fishing, dates as far back as the 2nd century.
The fine art of fly fishing is thriving in the Walton County area thanks to Freeport resident Jason Stacy. Working at Old Florida Outfitters in Santa Rosa Beach, Stacy is the shop’s in-house expert on the sport. Not only does he instruct a fly fishing school, he also offers a guide service and is the fly tying expert at the outfitter.
Fly tying is the process of producing an artificial fly used by anglers to catch fish in shallow water. Fly-tying is a process of binding various materials to a hook using thread such as chenille, rubber, feathers and foam. The design replicates various insects, reptiles or crustaceans that fish feed on. Click here to continue
Walton County area farm offers fresh vegetables, camping, fishing, agritourism and more
Guide/Self Guide Services – Fishing, camping, farm tour
Contact Luke Langford at (850) 685-5890 www.cypresscattle.com
2890 R. M. Ward Rd., Ponce De Leon, FL.
Tucked away near Ponce de Leon, straddling Walton/Holmes County line, sits 1,100 acres of rolling hills, magnificent live oaks, cypress ponds, pastures and acres of fresh produce.
Cypress Cattle Company has been a family-run farm for generations. W.J. Sapp started in the family business in the 1920s farming sugar cane and potatoes. The farm then migrated to dairy until 1991, when they switched to cattle farming, which is its mainstay to this day
Now managed by Sapp’s great-great nephew, Luke Langford, and his father Ken, Cypress now offers farm tours, primitive camping and fishing on any of their seven ponds for crappie, bass and bream. And, in keeping with all things fresh, Cypress now commercially grows produce, selling locally. Click here to continue
Get aboard Nonie’s Ark for a wildlife adventure
Guide Services – Environmental education parties and guided evening hikes for children
Local wildlife educator makes learning about wildlife a fun event
Walton County resident Nonie Maines has loved wildlife as long as she can remember. Growing up in South Florida, Nonie’s step-father would bring home unwanted or abandoned exotic pets while working as a pool installer. Nonie and her mother would nurse the critters back to health and raise them.
Learning about animal husbandry along the way, Nonie went on to get a summer job at the animal nursery at Busch Gardens right out of high school. Her career has been wrapped around animal care and education ever since.
Nonie’s love for animals is what inspired her to create Nonie’s Ark wildlife encounter parties, geared for children ages 5-11.
Nonie calls herself an “edutainer,” part educator, part entertainer. With more than 30 animals in her repertoire, Nonie educates children about wildlife and the risks involved in owning exotic pets. Children interact with the animals as Nonie explains the animal’s biology. Wildlife included in her shows may include a tarantula, turtle, snake, frog, severe macaw and a hissing cockroach. Click here to continue
A peaceful journey for nature lovers awaits at the Shoal Sanctuary
Host guided tour – Nature preserve in North Walton
Contact: Robert and Chris Larson: Call first for reservations: Phone: (850) 651-0392
For more information, go to: www.ShoalSanctuary.com
Tucked away off the beaten path in north Walton County there is a unique outdoor experience for nature lovers called the Shoal Sanctuary.
Located on 50 acres of trails, sculptures and serene vistas, proprietors Robert and Chris Larson welcome visitors to their retreat dedicated to sharing the beauty of the outdoor experience and appreciation of Mother Nature’s gifts.
Recorded history dates back to the 1830s. The property is believed to of been along the path of the “Trail Of Tears.” After the U.S. government’s “Indian Removal Act,” Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, Timuquan, Muskhogean, and Apalachee were forced migrate west, and lore sites a leg of that journey along the old Indian footpath now called Crowder Chapel Road near the retreat. Local Native Americans have said that Shoal Sanctuary was once a ceremonial gathering place. Click here to continue
Seacrest Wolf Preserve provides safe haven for displaced gray wolves and an experience not easily forgotten
Host guided tour – Gray wolf preserve, Chipley, Fla.
Contact: Cynthia Watkins (850) 773-2897 www.seacrestwolfpreserve.org
Cynthia Watkins, owner of the Seacrest Wolf Preserve has been fond of animals as long as she can remember. A show breeder of Siberian Huskies early on in her career, she became interested in the conservation of wolves in the 1980s. In 1995, Cynthia became involved with the Yellowstone National Park Wolf Reintroduction Program where she experienced her first physical contact with a wolf.
“The experience stoked the fire of conservation in my heart,” Cynthia said beaming with enthusiasm for the animals.
What started off as a small conservation effort in 1999, Cynthia and her husband Wayne now care for 25 pure gray wolves along with several other animals at their preserve.
The primary goal of the Seacrest Wolf Preserve is to provide a safe, humane habitat for displaced wolves. Their interpretive educates visitors on their beauty, intelligence and importance of the animal’s role as a keystone species in their natural environment. Click here to continue
A journey to the Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve
Host guided tour – Nature Preserve, North Walton
Contact John Wilkerson: Call ahead for reservations: (850) 859-2141
Up in the Northern part of Walton County sits an extraordinary and interesting place called the Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve. What a great morning I had off the beaten path, exploring living things, rusted things, and eco-friendly methods of laying the deceased to rest. Where else can you find a bamboo farm, Rustaphorian sculptures, a chufa farmer and a green burial ground?
John Wilkerson, along with his brother Bill and John’s better half, Barbara run the Preserve, and offer the only green burial option available in Northwest Florida. Not only can you acquire this eco-friendly option, the Wilkerson’s offer what John calls “the perfect eco coup.”