St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach offers something for everyone

You never know who you might meet at St. Andrews State Park. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

One of Florida’s top 10 parks chock full of adventure

It doesn’t take long to understand why St. Andrews State Park is consistently named one of the top ten parks in the State of Florida. With more than 1,200 acres to explore, this park offers something for everyone to enjoy.

For the nature lover, St. Andrews is host to salt marshes, sand pine scrub and rolling sand dunes along more than 1 ½ miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico. The marsh areas are home to nesting snowy egrets, great egrets, blue herons and little blue herons. The park’s shoreline is the perfect habitat for nesting shorebirds as well such as least terns and snowy plovers. Other fauna commonly found in the park include white-tailed deer, gopher tortoise, raccoon, coyote, alligator, marsh rabbit and cottontail rabbit.

A great egret wading in a marsh at St. Andrews State Park. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Two trails take the explorer through the sand pine scrub ecosystem offering stellar views of the Gulf of Mexico and Grand Lagoon in St. Andrews Bay. The Gator Lake Trail and overlook provide visitors with a beautiful vantage point for spotting alligators, wading birds and small animals. A 2-mile paved bicycle trail meanders throughout the park.

In addition to the main park, there is Shell island to explore – 770 acres of untouched nature.  There you can explore the shoreline of both Grand Lagoon and the Gulf of Mexico. A ferry is offered in the spring and summer to take you across Grand Lagoon to the island.

For the fisherman, the park offers two fishing piers; one located on Grand Lagoon, the other spans out into the Gulf.

Water sport enthusiasts can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, and canoeing. A calm, shallow water area near the jetties is known as the “kiddie pool” and a great spot for the little ones to enjoy a swim.

The park boasts an environmental interpretive center near the front entrance. Built with funds raised from the volunteer group of Friends of St. Andrews, you can learn about the plant and animal life at the park.

St. Andrews the perfect place for family outing. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

The center offers an orientation video, ecosystem dioramas and exhibitions.

The park stays busy at their boat launch, as it is in close proximity to the Gulf.
Boat Launch and Entrance Fees:
$12.00 for one person with a boat.
$16.00 for 2-8 people with a boat.

History
St. Andrews was a former military reservation during WWII. Two of the original Army barracks are still standing and currently house the regional offices for the Department of Environmental Protection State Parks.

In 1942, at the onset of WWII, the U.S. Army established a Temporary Harbor Defense (THD) installation at this site overlooking the recently opened pass into St. Andrews Bay. The purpose was to protect the area from German submarines which were operating in the Gulf of Mexico.

The installation consisted of two 155-millimeter guns mounted on concrete called Panama Mounts. The steel track around the rim allowed the gun to rotate 360 degrees.

A gorgeous trail wraps around a portion of Gator Lake. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Troops of Battery C, 13th Coastal Artillery were assigned to establish the THD in April 1943. The site was inactivated on Jan. 14, 1944 without a shot having been fired at an enemy.

Camping
There are 176 campsites with electricity, water, picnic tables and grills. The sites will accommodate camping units ranging in size from tents to RVs up to 40 feet in length. Dump stations are located in the campground. Five bathrooms with showers and a laundry facility are also available. Trails, beaches, a boat launch and concessions are located a short distance from the campground. Leased pets are welcome at campsites.

Shell Island
Shuttle boat tours are offered to go from the mainland of the park to Shell Island in spring and summer. Visitors may wish to sun or walk along the shore of this pristine barrier island. Tickets are available at the park concession.

Concessionaires
There are three stores in the park that are open during the summer season (March to Labor Day). These stores offers snacks, souvenirs, bait, fishing licenses, limited grocery items, and rental of chairs, umbrellas, snorkeling gear, and kayaks. At this time there is no restaurant available.
Paragon of Florida, Inc. – Food service, merchandise sales and rental of recreational equipment.
Contact Don Croft, (256) 259-1120
4607 State Park Lane
Panama City, FL 32408
Capt. A. III, Inc. – Tour boat service.
Contact Kenneth Anderson, (850) 234-3435
5550 North Lagoon Drive
Panama City, FL 32408
Capt. Anderson’s Sightseeing, Inc. – Tour boat service.
Contact Kenneth Anderson, (850) 234-3435
5550 North Lagoon Drive
Panama City, FL 32408
Capt. Bill Gorman Excursion Boats, Inc. – Tour boat service.
Contact Bill Gorman, (850) 7785-4878
5701 W. HWY 98
Panama City, FL 32401
G.B.B. Maritime, Inc. – Tour boat service.
Contact David Sheets, (850) 236-6021
4393 Commons Drive East, Suite 207
Destin, FL 32541

Address:
4607 State Park Lane
Panama City, Florida 32408
(850) 233-5140

Hours: The park is open from 8 a.m. until sundown 365 days a year.
Admission Fee:
$8.00 per vehicle. Limit 2-8 people per vehicle.
$4.00 Single Occupant Vehicle.
$2.00 Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in vehicle with holder of Annual Individual Entrance Pass.
Bus Tour Admission for 1 to 29 passengers is $2.00 per passenger. 30 or more passengers is $60.00 total.
Boat Launch & Entrance Fees:
$12.00 for one person with a boat.
$16.00 for 2 – 8 people with a boat.
Camping Fee:
$28.00 per night, plus tax. Includes water and electricity. Florida residents who are 65 years of age or older or who hold a social security disability award certificate or a 100 percent disability award certificate from the federal government are permitted to receive a 50 percent discount on current base campsite fees.

For RV/camping reservations, go to: www.ReserveAmerica.com
To learn more about St. Andrews State Park: click here
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Learn about Walton’s artificial reefs in Grayton Beach March 1

Date/time: Wed., March 1 – 10 a.m.

South Walton Artificial Reef Association will present a program on their progress of installing reefs just offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. We are not talking about taking barges of wrecked cars and washing machines to dump there. These reefs are scientifically designed and eco-friendly manmade structures which grow plant life and attract fish. Hear about the plans for the future and how scuba divers and snorkelers will delight in the new areas in which enjoy nature. See beautiful scenes of underwater life which exist right under our noses! SWARA personnel Andy McAlexander, Jim Richard and Walt Hartley will share their enthusiastic journey thus far.

The program will be held at the UF/IFAS Walton Extension Coastal Branch at 70 Logan Lane in Grayton Beach. The cost of the program is $5 (payable at the door) which includes instructional handouts and light refreshments. Seating is limited and reservations are required.

Contact Cheryl at 850-892-8172 or haneyc@ufl.edu to save your seat by the Monday before.

Master Gardeners will be on hand to take gardening questions. Soil analysis instruction and supplies will be available for $8 including shipping to the University of Florida for testing. MGs are at this location every Wednesday from 9:00 AM until noon.

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FWC approves bay scallop season changes for 2017

At its February meeting in Crystal River, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) discussed the current status of bay scallops in St. Joseph Bay in Gulf County; approved regional changes to the bay scallop season dates in Gulf County and areas surrounding Gulf County; and discussed potential season dates in Dixie County and parts of Taylor County. These changes are for 2017 only and are an opportunity to explore regionally-specific bay scallop seasons.

A prolonged red tide event in late 2015 negatively impacted the scallop population in St. Joseph Bay, which led to modified local scallop regulations for 2016 that included a shortened season and reduced bag limits. FWC researchers conducted a scallop restoration project last year within St. Joseph Bay to help speed the recovery of the scallop population. These efforts have been going well and the scallop population has shown signs of improvement. Staff will conduct similar restoration efforts in 2017.

“Staff and the community should be commended for their communication, management and restoration efforts in St. Joe Bay,” said Commissioner Chuck Roberts. “They were presented with a challenging situation and came through with a plan that balanced the needs of the resource with the economic and social needs of the community.”

At the request of stakeholders, the Commission approved a July 25 through Sept. 10 recreational bay scallop season off Gulf County, including all waters in St. Joseph Bay and those west of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County through the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County.

The 2017 bay scallop season for Dixie County and parts of Taylor County will be open from June 16 through Sept. 10. This includes all state waters from the Suwannee River through the Fenholloway River. These changes are for 2017 only and are an opportunity to explore regionally-specific bay scallop seasons.

Bag and vessel limits throughout the entire bay scallop harvest zone will be two gallons whole bay scallops in shell, or one pint of bay scallop meat per person with a maximum of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in shell, or a 1/2 gallon bay scallop meat per vessel.
At the December 2017 Commission meeting, staff will review public feedback on these changes and make a recommendation for future management. To submit your feedback on bay scallop regulations, visit MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments.

For more information on these changes, visit MyFWC.com/Commission and select “Commission Meetings,” then click on the link below “Next Meeting.”

For information on bay scallop regulations, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Bay Scallops.”

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Florida Master Naturalist course offered starting March 14

Freshwater Systems core module course offered

The Florida Extension Service is offering their Florida Master Naturalist Freshwater Systems core module course in Okaloosa and Walton counties March 14 through April 11, 2017. Instructors from Okaloosa and Walton counties are pleased to announce open registration through March 8.

Registration Fee:
$275 Attendee Fee with Color Manual
$230 Attendee Fee with USB Drive
$210 Partner Attendee Fee

To see the agenda or register click here.

The mission of the Florida Master Naturalist Program is to increase awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world among Florida’s citizens and visitors.  For more information, please go to http://www.masternaturalist.ifas.ufl.edu/

Through classroom, field trip, and practical experience, the Freshwater module provides instruction on the general ecology, habitats, vegetation types, wildlife, and conservation issues of Freshwater Systems in Florida – Marshes, Swamps, and Permanent Wetlands (Lakes, Rivers, Springs, and Streams). The program also addresses society’s role in wetlands, develops naturalist interpretation skills, and discusses environmental ethics.

The total training consists of 40 contact hours, the scheduling of which will vary among different instructors. The only requirements of students are enthusiasm, attendance, and completion of group final projects. There is no comprehensive examination required. Classroom learning includes four instructional videos and 12 presentations.

The students will attend classes at three locations:
Timpoochee 4-H Youth Camp
4750 Timpoochee Ln., Niceville, FL 32578

Jackson Guard – Eglin AFB Natural Resources
107 Hwy 85 N, Niceville, FL, 32578

UF/IFAS Extension Walton County
732 N 9th St, DeFuniak Springs, FL, 32433

If you have any questions, please contact Laura Tiu, lgtiu@ufl.edu

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Seaside School fundraiser, half marathon and 5K run Mar. 3-5

Get ready, set and race to help support the Seaside School. The three-day race weekend includes Taste of the Race pre-party on Friday, the Seaside School Race Expo on Saturday and culminates with the 15th annual Seaside School Half Marathon & 5K Run on Sunday.

Taste of the Race presented by Chef Emeril Lagasse and Visit South Walton on Friday, March 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Seaside’s Lyceum Hall. Participants can pick up packets enjoy cuisine from some of the Gulf Coast’s top chefs, fine wines, craft beer and spirits, listen to live music and get a sneak peak at the silent auction.

Festivities continue on Saturday, March 4 with the Seaside School Race Expo from noon to 6 p.m. on the Seaside Lyceum lawn, where guests can pick up race registration, browse a vendor expo and bid in a silent auction.

The Seaside School Half Marathon race, presented by Vera Bradley, begins at the Seaside Post Office on Sunday, March 5 at 7 a.m. and the 5K Run at 7:25 a.m. Silent auction bidding will remain open up until 11:30 a.m. All finishers receive a designer Vera Bradley tote. Half marathoners receive custom finisher’s medallion, and both races provide a moisture-wicking race shirt, and coveted goody bag.

Tickets to Taste of the Race are $300 for VIP admission, which opens at 6 p.m. and $99 for general admission from 7 to 9 p.m. Race registration is $125 for the Half Marathon and $95 for the 5K. Additional online registration fees may apply. Space is limited; advance registration for both races is required.

Registration for the Half Marathon or 5K race does not include entry into the Taste of the Race with Chef Emeril Lagasse nor does registration for the Taste of the Race include entry into the Half Marathon or 5K race.

For tickets to Taste of the Race or to register for the Seaside School Half Marathon and 5K Run, visit runseasidefl.com.

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Conradina covers South Walton

Conradina canescens is a member of the mint family. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Conradina canescens is a member of the mint family. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Beautiful lavender flowering shrub graces our  sandhill forests in spring

Ever wonder what those beautiful lavender plants are along our byways in South Walton? False rosemary (Conradina canescens) is actually part of the mint (Lamiacae) family. To explore these beautiful plants, head out to our area trails. Learn more by clicking here.

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