Camp Helen State Park hosting movie, food and fun on June 29

camphelenlodgeThe third annual Movies & More series continues on Wed., June 29.

The evening begin at 5:30 p.m. in the park’s Recreation Hall with a brief interpretive program led by a Camp Helen Park Ranger or other expert. The program will be followed by an old-fashioned campfire cookout of hot dogs and s’mores provided by the Friends of Camp Helen. Each evening will conclude with a family-oriented movie in the Recreation Hall, where seating will be provided.

A parent or guardian must accompany all children.

These special movie nights are sponsored by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection and the Friends of Camp Helen State Park. Admission into the park for this event is free, although donations are accepted. Donations will go directly to the Friends of Camp Helen State Park to benefit the park’s resource management projects and interpretive programs.

The movie “A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures” will be featured. You can follow the wonderful adventures of the green sea turtle Sammy as he searches the ocean for his lost true love. During the epic journey that all turtles accomplish before returning to where they were born, Sammy dodges every possible danger, including battling with piranhas, escaping an eagle and searching for a mysterious secret passage, hoping to meet Shelly again. (Rated PG). Gulf World will present the interpretive program on Sea Turtles.

More information is available by calling (850) 233-5059 or by emailing [email protected].

Camp Helen State Park is located at 23937 Panama City Beach Parkway (Highway 98), Panama City Beach, just west of the Lake Powell Bridge.

 

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Explore the many facets of the Choctawhatchee River

The Choctawhatchee River boasts many recreation opportunities. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

The Choctawhatchee River boasts many recreation opportunities. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

An abundance of recreation awaits on the river

Originating in southern Alabama, meandering south through northwest Florida in Holmes, Walton, and Washington counties, is the ever-changing Choctawhatchee River. The river arises and flows close to 140 miles southward, to eventually empty into the Choctawhatchee Bay.

The Choctawhatchee is alluvial, characterized by a broad floodplain, prone to seasonal flooding, and heavy sediment load. Alluvial rivers are self-formed, meaning their channels are shaped by the magnitude and frequency of the floods experienced, and the ability of these floods to erode, deposit, and transport sediment. The sediment shifts and flooding ensure the river is ever changing. The river receives significant quantities of water source from the Floridan aquifer system, and has both black water and spring-fed tributaries.

Native Americans facilitated the waterway since the1700s for hunting, fishing, and trading. Their goods were traded as far away as Pensacola via the waterways of the Choctawhatchee River, Bay, and Santa Rosa Sound. Through the later 1800s to the mid 1900s, the river was heavily used for commerce such as cypress logging, turpentine trading, and fishing. Cypress dead-head logging continues to this day.

Remnants of the Capt. Fritz remain. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Remnants of the Capt. Fritz remain. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

There is evidence of the old commerce along the river such as the relic of the Captain Fritz, a steamboat that made a regular run between Freeport, Point Washington and Pensacola. The boat caught fire while moored at Cedar Tree Landing, untied and remains down river where it sank. Learn more about the Captain Fritz by clicking here.

These days, the river is enjoyed mostly for its vast variety of recreational opportunities.

Northwest Florida Water Management District manages the majority of the recreational accesses and parks along the river. To locate a park, click here.

Fishing the back waters of the river. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Fishing the back waters of the river. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Boating/Fishing:
In general, anglers will enjoy the greatest success fishing when water levels are low and the river is within its banks. There are many small lakes along the backwaters that offer great fishing opportunities as well, offering a variety of species such as bream, bluegill, shellcracker, catfish, largemouth bass, hybrid striped bass, and mullet.

The Florida State record for blue catfish was caught in 2015 weighing in at 69.50 lbs. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

The Florida State record for blue catfish was caught in 2015 weighing in at 69.50 lbs. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

The Choctawhatchee River boasts a bit fishing fame. The Florida State record for blue catfish was caught in 2015, weighing in at 69.50 lbs. The State record for alligator gar was set in 1995 weighing in at 123.00 lbs.

The river serves as a breeding and migratory area for alligator gar and the federally-threatened gulf sturgeon.

The calm waters of tributaries such as chain of lakes is perfect for paddling. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

The calm waters of tributaries such as chain of lakes is perfect for paddling. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

There are many tributaries such as Holmes Creek, Bruce Creek, Morrison Springs run, and chain of lakes that offer calm water opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, and stand up paddle boarding. There are numerous boat ramps on the west and east side of the river. You can easily find a ramp location by clicking here.

The Choctawhatchee River has recently be designated at a Florida Blueway Trail. Learn more by downloading here.

Camping:
Primitive campsites are available along the river at three locations. Dead River and Lost Lake/Tilley Landing on the western bank, Boynton Cutoff Landing on the eastern, offer primitive camping areas with picnic tables, grills, and fire rings. Click here to reserve. Some boaters create their own campsites along the sandy banks of the rivers’ edge.

Springs:
There are several springs that can be accessed from the river and enjoyed by the public. Here is a list in Florida from north to south:

Holmes Blue Spring – Lat/lon: 30.851430000 -85.885850000
Holmes Blue Spring discharges from a triangular opening in limestone at the center of its 40-foot wide pool and continues along a short run to the Choctawhatchee River. The limestone cavity is approximately 6 feet wide and extends at least 5 feet below the bottom of the pool. Apart from the cavity, the bottom of the pool is covered with sandy silt and a handful of snags and logs. A prominent surface boil is visible except under flood conditions. The best time to visit the spring is when the stage at the USGS recorder at Caryville measures 6 feet or less. Accessible only from the river.

Morrison Springs can be accessed by vehicle or boat and is a popular swimming destination. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Morrison Springs can be accessed by vehicle or boat and is a popular swimming destination. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Wrights Creek Blue Spring – Lat/lon: 30.802566667 -85.818891667
Wrights Blue Spring is located in the low floodplain of Wrights Creek 0.6 mile from its confluence with the Choctawhatchee River. According to locals, the spring is usually flooded by flow from Wrights Creek and is only clear blue at very low stages. The vent is located at the southern end of a 200-foot wide shallow pool on the north side of Wrights Creek. Maximum depth recorded was 15 feet. Outcrops of Ocala Limestone can be seen scattered throughout the surrounding cypress and tupelo hammock.

Morrison Springs – Lat/lon: 30.657928611 -85.903931667
Morrison springs is a magnitude 2 spring, An estimated 48 million gallons of crystal clear water each day and has been recorded to produce up to 70 million gallons a day. Three cavities allow Morrison’s frigid waters to surface from the underground aquifer. The deepest of these cavities, at approximately 300 foot in depth, eventually terminates in an underground chamber of unknown dimensions. Approx. ½ mile to the river. Morrison Springs is the only spring along the Choctawhatchee River that offers a recreation area accessible by land. Accessible only from the river.

Potter spring. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Potter spring. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Potter Spring – Lat/lon: 30.523832778 -85.844026111
Potter Spring is located off Mill Branch north of Mill Lake. The spring vent is an opening in limestone approximately 10 feet in width in the center of a circular 50-foot pool. Maximum depth recorded in the spring vent was 29 feet. The sides of the spring pool consist of a steep grade of sediments and woody debris. Located adjacent to private property. Accessible only from the Choctawhatchee River.

Washington Blue Spring – Lat/lon: 30.513258333 -85.847186111
This popular spring is located 0.8 miles up Mill Branch Spring Run from the Choctawhatchee River south of the confluence with Holmes Creek. The spring discharges from a 10-foot wide opening beneath a limestone ledge at the west edge of a 60-foot wide bowl-shaped pool. Steep sandy clay banks rise to approximately 20 feet to the south and west while the east and north consist of low cypress and tupelo wetlands. The spring discharge pushes a prominent surface boil. Located adjacent to private property. Accessible only from the Choctawhatchee River.

Hunting:

Randy Humphreys bagged these 100 and 130 lb. wild hogs on Bruce Creek in Northeast Walton County early on Thanksgiving Day.

Randy Humphreys bagged these 100 and 130 lb. wild hogs on Bruce Creek in Northeast Walton County early on Thanksgiving Day.

Hunting is popular along the Choctawhatchee River. Feral hog, deer, duck, alligator, and small game are commonly found. Hunting is regulated by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in designated wildlife management areas. To hunt on wildlife management areas (WMAs), you must possess a management area permit and a hunting license, (and often other permits depending on species and season), unless exempt. Limited entry/quota permits are required on WMAs during certain time periods. They can only be applied for during the scheduled application periods. The worksheets with the hunt choices and hunt dates are usually posted about two weeks before the permit application period opens. For more information, click here.

Fauna and flora:

Turtles taking a stretch along the river. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Turtles taking a stretch along the river. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

There is an abundance of wildlife along the river as most of its banks are undeveloped. Alligator, feral hog, white tailed deer, raccoon, opossum, turkey, snakes, and a variety of raptors and songbirds can be found. The flora includes tupelo, cypress, magnolia, willow, laurel oak, Florida maple, yaupon holly, rhododendron, and water lily to name a few.

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Plant hike at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park June 22

 Date/time: Wednesday June 22, 9-10 a.m.

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park invites you to enjoy an informational plant hike. Visitors will learn about some of the plant species here at the park. Some of these plants are truly invasive and carry with them, few, if any, of the natural controls that keep them in check in their native ranges, while some are imperiled and others can be used for medicinal purposes. The topics for the hike will vary based on the time of year and growing season. Enter the park through the main gate and park staff will direct you to the designated meeting location. If weather is bad the program will be held in the clubhouse.

Entry to the park is free through Labor Day. 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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Let the Lionfish Challenge begin; may the odds be ever in your favor

 Interested in removing lionfish from Florida waters? Participate in the 2016 Lionfish Challenge or the Panhandle Pilot Program reward programs. You could be the next winner of a Neritic polespear like Richard “Tott” Thomas, a Zookeeper lionfish containment unit like Alex Page or a $100 dive tank refill like Brian Belzer, our most recent Lionfish Challenge winners.

Since the kick-off on May 14, 29 divers have entered 4,338 lionfish in the statewide Lionfish Challenge, which rewards those who remove 50 or more lionfish from waters across the state. Nineteen of those qualified for the Panhandle Pilot Program, which rewards divers for every 100 lionfish removed from Escambia through Franklin counties, where lionfish densities tend to be higher.

Learn more about how each program works below or online at MyFWC.com/Lionfish.

Lionfish Challenge
Remove 50 or more lionfish between Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day (May 14, 2016) and the end of September to enter the Lionfish Challenge.
Rewards include:
• a commemorative coin to mark membership;
• an event T-shirt;
• Lionfish Hall of Fame recognition on the MyFWC.com website;
• being entered in drawings to win prizes including fishing licenses, lionfish harvesting equipment, fuel cards and dive tank refills;
• if qualified before the relevant harvest season starts, the opportunity to take an additional spiny lobster per day during the 2016 mini-season (July 27-28);
• and, the person who “checks in” the most lionfish will be crowned Florida’s Lionfish King or Queen and will receive a lifetime saltwater fishing license, have his or her photograph featured on the cover of the FWC’s January 2017 Saltwater Regulations publication, be prominently featured on MyFWC.com’s Lionfish Hall of Fame, and be recognized at the November 2016 FWC Commission meeting.

How to Enter
Email photos of your first 50 qualifying lionfish to [email protected] and include the name of the harvester, the date harvested and your signature in the photo (written on a piece of paper next to the fish for example) and your mailing address in the email. You can also submit your first 50 at an FWC approved checkpoint.
All tails in excess of the initial 50 must be brought to an FWC approved checkpoint (see list at MyFWC.com/Lionfish by clicking on “Lionfish Challenge and Panhandle Pilot Program”).

Panhandle Pilot Program
The Panhandle Pilot Program focuses on lionfish removal efforts off Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf and Franklin counties. For every 100 lionfish checked in from this seven-county region between May 2016 and May 2017, the harvester will be eligible to receive a tag allowing them to take either a legal-sized red grouper or a legal-sized cobia that is over the bag limit from state waters. The state will issue up to a total of 100 red grouper and 30 cobia tags to successful participants in the pilot program. So far, 32 tags have been claimed. In addition, the first 10 persons or groups that check in 500 or more lionfish during this one-year period will be given the opportunity to name an artificial reef.
To qualify for this program, tails of any lionfish harvested must be brought to an approved FWC checkpoint (list at MyFWC.com/Lionfish by clicking on “Lionfish Challenge and Panhandle Pilot Program”).

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Cops on Top event at Lakewood/Britton Hill Park in Paxton June 25

waltonsheriffcopsontopOn Saturday, June 25th, at 11 a.m. teams from across the country will set out to summit their state’s highest point in honor of the law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty. Whether the team is attempting to climb the tallest mountain or hike the highest hill, each team member will carry with them the memory of the tremendous sacrifice the officers made to protect and serve their respective state.

The annual Summit for Heroes Memorial Climb dates back to 2006 and is one of our largest memorial climbing events the organizations conduct.

Please join in at Britton Hill in Paxton, Florida as we honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving their communities. The ceremony will begin at 9am and will include the Walton County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard, Concerns for Police Survivors, and the Blue Knights Chapter XXXI.

Directions: Take U.S. Hwy 331 north. Turn east on Co. Hwy. 147E just south of Paxton. Turn left on N. Co. Hwy 285. The park is on the left. ::MAP::

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Remnants of the Captain Fritz steamboat remain in the Choctawhatchee riverbed

The Capt. Fritz steamboat. Photo courtesy State Library and Archives of Florida

The Capt. Fritz steamboat. Photo courtesy State Library and Archives of Florida

Low water levels expose remnants of Walton history

Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s much of Walton County’s commerce was transported via water. Sown lumber, turpentine and vegetables were shipped to the mills and markets of Pensacola via steamboat and schooner.

One of the major steamboats that made a regular run between Freeport, Point Washington and Pensacola was the Capt. Fritz. A stern wheel steamboat built in 1892 the Capt. Fritz started operations in the Choctawhatchee Bay. She transported goods and passengers until she caught fire and burned at Cedar Tree Landing on the river on Sept. 19, 1930.  Historical records show that when the vessel caught fire at Cedar Tree Landing she was cut loose from her moorings. The ship floated down river to her current resting place about one mile north of Cowford Landing. Remnants of the Capt. Fritz are easily visible when the river level is low.

Remnants of the Capt. Fritz remain. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Remnants of the Capt. Fritz remain. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Walton County resident Ken Little and his wife Gator have a close connection to the Capt. Fritz.

“Gator’s grandfather and great-grandfather were skippers of the Fritz during part of the time she was in service,” Ken recalled.

For those interested in exploring the remnants of the steamboat, the Capt. Fritz is located approximately 1 mile north of Cowford Landing. The GPS location is: 30° 28′ 7″N  85° 53′ 23″W.

Information courtesy Coastal Heritage Foundation, State Library and Archives of Florida, and the Mississippi Maritime Museum.

About the Capt. Fritz:
Built 1892
Side Paddle Wheel – Built at Moss Point, Miss, 1892
Builder: John D’Angelo; Registration: 126911
Description: 101.0 Length; 21.6 breadth; 4.5 depth
Tonnage: 32 Gross; 16 Net; Home Port: Shieldsboro, Miss., in 1892
Owner: Fritz Lienhard

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Health advisories have been issued for the Miramar Beach, Dune Allen, Blue Mountain, and Grayton Beach Accesses

healthdeptlogoJune 8, 2016 – The Florida Department of Health in Walton County (DOH-Walton) conducts regularly scheduled saltwater beach water quality monitoring at seven sites through the Healthy Beaches Monitoring Program. Samples are collected from March through the end of October. The water samples are analyzed for enteric bacteria (enterococci) that normally inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and animals, which may cause human disease, infections, or rashes. The presence of enteric bacteria is an indication of fecal pollution, which may come from storm water runoff, pets and wildlife, and human sewage. The purpose of the Healthy Beaches Monitoring Program is to determine whether Florida has significant coastal beach water quality problems and whether future beach monitoring efforts are necessary.

 

Site Name Enterococci Water Quality
SP-1 Miramar Beach 76 Poor
SP-3 Dune Allen Beach 84 Poor
SP-4 Blue Mountain Beach 116 Poor
SP-5 Grayton Beach 92 Poor
SP-7 Holly Street Beach 60 Moderate
SP-8 Eastern Lake Beach 36 Moderate
SP-9 Inlet Beach Access 16 Good

Water quality classifications are based upon United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) recommended criteria and Florida Healthy Beaches Program Categories:

Good = 0 – 35 Enterococci CFU per 100 ml of marine

Moderate = 36 – 70 Enterococci CFU per 100 ml of marine water

Poor = 71 or greater Enterococci CFU per 100 ml of marine water

Health Advisories have been issued for the Miramar Beach Access, Dune Allen Beach Access, Blue Mountain Beach Access and Grayton Beach Access based on the enterococci standard recommended by the EPA. This should be considered a potential health risk to the bathing public.

If you should have any questions, please contact DOH-Walton at (850) 892-8021 or visit the Florida Department of Health’s Beach Water Quality website www.floridahealth.gov/healthy-environments/beach-water-quality/index.html.

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