Explore nature at St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge

St. Vincent Island boast several fresh water lakes. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

St. Vincent Island boast several fresh water lakes. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Have you ever wanted to step back in time and explore the natural beauty of Florida?  Pack yourself a lunch and head over to the undeveloped treasure chest that awaits you at the St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).

Located at the mouth of the Apalachicola River, in the Gulf of Mexico, St. Vincent Island NWR is a 12,300-acre barrier island. The island is 9 miles long and 4 miles wide. The triangular island is larger than most of the northern Gulf coast barrier islands and dissected by dune ridges, freshwater lakes and sloughs on the east end. The west ends supports dry upland pine forests.

A young alligator sunning itself. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

A young alligator sunning itself. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

The island is a haven for an abundance of wildlife including migratory birds, raptors, alligators, deer, and red wolves. It is rich with plant life that includes pines, hardwoods such as scrub and live oak, spiderwort, St. John’s wort, and gallberry, saw palmetto to name a few. The beach is a delight for shell seekers, as the tiny gems scattered along the south side of the island are a pocketful of keepers.

Accessed only by water, options to get there are paddling, boating or by shuttle boat located at the Indian Pass boat ramp. Call (850) 229-1065 for shuttle information/reservation. ::MAP::

Things to know:
• Motorized vehicles and equipment are prohibited – bicycles are permitted.
• Refuge is closed during permitted hunts and storm events.
• No potable water or telephones are on the island.
• The 2 restrooms are located near the boathouse and by the cabin in the interior.
• Bring water and insect repellent.
• The refuge is open daylight hours only. No overnight camping is permitted except during special hunt season.

A great horned owlet nestled in pine tree. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

A great horned owlet nestled in pine tree. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Kayak/canoe/stand up paddle board:
It is a short paddle from Indian Pass to the western shoreline. Be observant of the tidal flow. At certain times, it can be quite strong making a short paddle very challenging. Once you reach the shoreline, you can paddle along the Gulf of Mexico or paddle the bay side and experience the many creeks and coves.

Biking:
There are roads and trails throughout the island. Trail maps are available at the Wildlife Refuge office in Apalachicola and in kiosk near the boat dock on the western end of the island. Most of the biking roads and hiking trails are inland, so bikers and hikers should be prepared for biting insects in dense but beautiful forests.

Brown water snake. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Brown water snake. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Hiking options:
Easy:
• From Indian Pass boat dock head down the road toward the Gulfside point. Note restrictions due to nesting shorebirds.
• Take the beach trail over to the Gulf side of the island. Have a pleasant walk on the beach.
• Cut back over to Indian Pass via “O” road (sign sitting up on dune). Follow to the end of “O” road and take a left on “B” road which will bring you back to Indian Pass. Young children can do this hike if they are used to walking.

Moderate:
• Start same route as Easy hike.
• Keep going past “O” road for as long as you wish. Cut back over any of the roads and take a left on “B” and head back to Indian Pass.

Intense:
• From Indian Pass hike down road “B” to road “2”. Turn left onto road “2”.
• Walk to “E” road and take a right.
• Continue hiking as long as you want. Take a right on road “3” or “4” and hike to the beach.
• Turn right on the beach and head back

Aerial photo of St. Vincent Island NWR shows the natural sand ridges. Photo courtesy Debbie Hooper http://www.joebay.com.

Aerial photo of St. Vincent Island NWR shows the natural sand ridges. Photo courtesy Friends of St. Vincent Island.

Guided tours:
The Supporters Group of St. Vincent Island offers a guided tour of the island once a month. The tour is free, but participants must make a reservation and there is a nominal charge for a local boat captain to take you from Indian Pass to the island. Contact the St. Vincent Wildlife Refuge Office for reservations and the name and phone number of the local captain providing transportation to the island. The refuge office & visitor center is located in the Harbor Master building on Market Street in Apalachicola.

Hours are 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Friday (850-653-8808). You can also schedule transportation to and from the island for yourself and your bike whenever you would like to visit the island. Click here for reservation information.

History:
Pottery shards that have been found on the island indicate that Native Americans inhabited the island as early as the year 240. Franciscan friars doing missionary work with the Apalachee Indians named the island St. Vincentin 1633. Creeks and Seminole Indians inhabited of the island in the 1750s.

During the Civil War, a small fort called Fort Mallory was built off of Dune Road.  In 1868 George Hatch purchased St. Vincent Island at an auction for $3,000. His grave is the only marked grave on the island and can be found west of the cabin.

stvincentmapUSFWSIn 1908 Dr. Pierce purchased the island for $60,000 and during his ownership the island had several uses. He imported old world game and used the island as a private hunting preserve. The Sambar deer, an elk from India, acclimated to the island terrain and remains on the island today. He also raised beef cattle which were sold to the Apalachicola market. In 1940 the first oyster leases were granted for the bay waters by the island. The Pierce estate also sold pine timber to the St. Joe Company who built a bridge to the island for timber removal. The cabin was also built during this period.

The Loomis brothers bought the island in 1948 for $140,000 and turned the island into a private hunting preserve. Many exotic animals such as zebra, eland, black buck, ring necked pheasants, Asian jungle fowl, bob white quail, and semi-wild turkeys were brought to the island.

In 1968 The Nature Conservancy purchased the island for $2.2 million. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service then purchased St. Vincent with Duck Stamp funds. All exotic animals, except the Sambar deer and feral hogs were removed.

Hunting:
St. Vincent Island offers some of the most unique hunting opportunities found on any wildlife refuge. For hunters wanting to rough it and go after “big game” there is the primitive weapon (muzzle and bow) Sambar deer hunt. This elusive deer which is native to Southeast Asia can measure up to 6 ft. tall and can weigh up to 700 lbs. The 150 permits for this hunt are issued through a lottery that attracts between1200 and 1400 applicants.

Permits for the two other hunts, white tailed deer archery hunt and white tailed deer primitive weapon hunt, are issued to the first 250 applicants. ($25 fee). The application process is done through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Total Licensing System. Click here for info.

Camping is primitive and all supplies must be carried to the island and transported on foot to designated camping areas.

Visitor’s center:
The Refuge Office/Visitor Center is in the Harbor Master Building at 479 Market Street, Apalachicola, Florida. Refuge signs on Highway 98 will direct you to the Center. The Center is open Monday – Thursday 10 am – 3:30 pm E.S.T.

Become a friend of the island and learn more at: www.stvincentfriends.com

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Getting to Know the Natives – Garden and trail tour at Northwest Florida State College South Walton April 21

 Time: 3 p.m.

Get acquainted with the local flora and fauna as you enjoy a guided tour of the Native Plant Demonstration Garden and Trail at Northwest Florida State College (South Walton Center). Plants featured in the Garden, Trail and Wildflower Meadow are critical to habitat preservation, providing food and shelter for hundreds of species of pollinators, amphibians, reptiles, birds and small mammals.  The area is mostly handicap accessible. It is established as a teaching/demonstration/leisure site for students and the general public.  Session will include an overview/introduction followed by a two-hour docent-led walk, approximately 1 mile. Appropriate for all ages. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Space is limited to 16 participants. Minimum of 4. Location: South Walton Center of Northwest Florida State College, 109 Greenway Trail, Santa Rosa Beach.

Fee: $15.  Click here to register online or call 850-200-4160.  Ref# 090592

Hosted by Choctawhathcee Basin Alliance, Discover Roads Less Traveled eco-tours will introduce you to some of these very special places. Click here to learn about various upcoming events.

Event subject to cancellation. In the case of inclement weather, registrants will be notified by email or phone the afternoon/evening prior, and fees will be fully refunded.

CBAecoadventures

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Take a guided tour of the coastal dune lakes April 22

campbelllakesmTime: 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Join Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance, UF/IFAS Extension, and Florida Sea Grant for natural resource tours to introduce participants to the Jewels of 30A – the coastal dune lakes of Walton County, Florida. Coastal dune lakes are extremely rare ecosystems, which exist in just a few places around the world.  These dynamic lake systems support an incredible biological community and are considered to be a biodiversity hotspot.

The tour of the coastal dune lakes will follow Scenic Highway 30A and will make several stops along the way, visiting three to five coastal dune lakes. You will explore the unique character of the different lakes as we discuss ecology, water quality, and human impacts. You will also enjoy photographic vistas, take a short hike within the dune system, and stop for a picnic lunch in one of the local state parks.

Participants should plan for easy to moderate short hiking, getting in and out of vans, and being outside in sunny and possibly windy conditions associated with coastal areas.  Bring a camera and /or binoculars if you like. Bring hat, water bottle, sunglasses, sunscreen, and layered weather-appropriate clothing, including rain gear if needed.  Tours will go on, rain or shine; stops may be adjusted according to weather conditions to suit the comfort of the participants.

Future date the tour will be offered:  June 18 from 9:30 am -3:30 pm.

Cost: $45, lunch will be provided.  Space is limited to 30 participants. Minimum of 5.

Location: Meet at South Walton Center of Northwest Florida State College, 109 Greenway Trail, Santa Rosa Beach

Go to www.basinalliance.org and click on the EcoTours info box to find out more.  Call 850-200-4160 to register. For more information, call:  Sarah Schindele, Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance, 850-517-6843 or Brooke Saari UF/IFAS Extension & Florida Sea Grant 850-685-7359.

CBAecoadventures

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Habitat Rx: Five Steps to a Healthy Watershed workshop in Santa Rosa Beach April 21

chinesetallowCitizens unite to combat invasive species in our community

The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) in collaboration with UF/IFAS Extension & Florida Sea Grant will host a public workshop at Padgett Park, 810 JD Miller Rd, Santa Rosa Beach on Monday, April 21 from 5:30 – 7 p.m. Attendees will learn how to identify invasive plants found in our community,  and how to use this knowledge to improve their neighborhoods.

Habitat Rx is designed to facilitate stewardship among neighbors and encourage property-owners throughout South Walton to join in the fight against invasive species. By signing up for the Habitat Rx program, citizens will be eligible to receive treatment and removal of invasive plant species, and a replacement native species will be provided at no cost. April workshop attendees can become community leaders by spearheading these efforts in their neighborhoods.

Invasive plants are a major threat to our landscape. They take over large areas, out-competing native plants for water, sunlight, nutrients, and space. They eliminate food and habitat for native wildlife and insects. And they require very expensive control measures—Floridians spend over $500 million each year to combat invasive species!

Keen Polakoff has become a local champion for the removal of the invasive Chinese tallow, or popcorn tree, from our landscape. Says Polakoff, “It seems so harmless as it can be so pleasant, growing quickly without issue and providing shade and structure to a garden. It’s anything but that and threatens our Dune Lake environment immensely.”

Together we can protect and improve our environment. Habitat Rx suggests five simple steps to a healthy watershed: 1) Listen 2) Learn 3) Make Changes 4) Tell A Friend 5) Take Action.  Take the first two steps by attending the upcoming workshop! Please RSVP by contacting the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance: 850-200-4171 or schindes@nwfsc.edu.

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Camp SkyWay offering outdoor summer fun at Camp Helen State Park

skywayLocal Day Camp keeps your children moving, learning, and exploring, while creating memories and friendships

Camp SkyWay, located at Camp Helen State Park, offers a one of a kind summer day camp experience for young campers ages 5-12. Campers will experience exciting and unique adventures, with opportunities to discover new interests, build friendships, and explore the captivating outdoors.

Go to www.CampSkyWay.com for more details on schedules and activities.

Driving Directions
Camp Helen is located at 23937 Panama City Beach Parkway, Panama City Beach, FL, just west of the Phillips Inlet bridge on the Bay County and Walton county line. The entrance is south of U.S. Hwy 98. ::MAP::

Typical camp activities schedule is:

8-9 am:  Extended Care
9 am:  Parent Drop-off
9-12 pm:  Welcome Campers!  Our mornings are 3 rotations of scheduled activities ranging from camp crafts and slimy science labs to adventures in nature and beach activities!  Campers choose their own activities for the week! Click here for Activity Options.
12-1 pm:  Lunch Time:  Campers, don’t forget to pack you lunch! Lunch is followed by “Chill Time.”
1-2 pm:  Give Back Program! Campers work together to “Give Back” to our home, Camp Helen State Park!  It is important to take care of the world around us!
2-4 pm:  Team Tournaments.  Each week campers are divided in to teams.  Teams work together and compete in a variety of camp challenges!  Will Your Team Win the Adventure Games?
4 pm:  Parent Pick-up
4-5 pm:  Extended Care

For more information contact our Camp Director “Tink” at 210.878.9241 or email at CampSkyWay@hotmail.com.

Week 1:  June 9 - June 13
Week 2:  June 16 – June 20
Week 3:  June 23 – June 27
Week 4:  Closed
Week 5:  July 7 – July 11
Week 6:  July 14 – July 18
Week 7:  July 21 – July 25
Week 8:  July 28 -  August 1
Week 9:  August 4 – August 8

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Walton County beach sampling results for April 8, 2014

waltonhealthAdvisory issued for Grayton and Dune Allen beach

WALTON COUNTY – The Florida Department of Health in Walton County 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 *
SP-3 Dune Allen Beach 168 Poor
SP-4 Blue Mountain Beach 64 Moderate
SP-5 Grayton Beach 324 Poor
SP-7 Holly Street Beach 60 Moderate
SP-8 Eastern Lake Beach 16 Good
SP-9 Inlet Beach Access 24 Good

*Miramar Beach could not be sampled yesterday due to bad weather conditions. Samples were taken this morning and we should have the results tomorrow afternoon.

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 per 100 ml of marine
Moderate = 36 – 104 Enterococci per 100 ml of marine water
Poor = greater than 105 Enterococci per 100 ml of marine water

Health Advisories have been issued for the Dune Allen Beach Access and the 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 the FDOH in Walton County at (850) 892-8021, or visit the Department of Health’s Beach Water Quality website www.floridahealth.gov/healthy-environments/beach-water-quality/index.html.

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Learn about the flora and fauna at Deer Lake State Park April 17

deerOn Thursday, April 17th at 9 a.m. join the Deer Lake Park services specialist for “The Dunes are Alive talk at Deer Lake State Park. Learn about the flora and fauna found in the sand dunes. Participants will meet at the Deer Lake State Park parking area. This talk will take approximately 1 hour.

All programs are subject to change. Outside programs will be cancelled during severe weather/rain.

Park entry fee $3.00 per vehicle. Please use the honor box to pay fees. Correct change is required. Limit 8 people per vehicle.

Driving Directions: The park is located on Scenic Highway 30A in Santa Rosa Beach, just west of the WaterSound development. ::MAP::

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Have breakfast with a ranger and Turtle Bob at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park April 12

turtlebobTime: 9 – 10:30 a.m.

Topsail Hill invites you to a special breakfast on Sat., April 12, with guest speaker Turtle Bob from the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center. Turtle Bob will talk about the importance of our local turtles and gopher tortoises. This will be a fun and informative program for all ages. Upon entering the park, the staff at the ranger station will direct you to the clubhouse. Breakfast is provided for a suggested donation of $5, or you may bring your own, all proceeds go to the Friends of Topsail Hill Preserve State 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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Nick’s Redfish Roundup tournament May 17, 2014

2014redfishlogoNick’s Seafood Restaurant will be hosting their Ninth Annual Redfish Roundup tournament on Sat., May 17, 2014.  Payout: $10,000.00 to the top five places. 1st-$5,000.00, 2nd-$2,000.00, 3rd-$1,500.00, 4th-$1,000.00, 5th -$500.00. Payout is based on a 50 team participation.

All contestants must be registered by 7 p.m. on Friday, May 16. Click here to download tournament rules > 2014redfishrules

To register, download form here >  2014redfishregistration

Call Trey Nick for more details at (850) 830-6161.

Entry Fee: $200.00 Per Two-Person Team

Payout: $10,000.00 to the top five places. 1st-$5,000.00, 2nd-$2,000.00, 3rd-$1,500.00, 4th-$1,000.00, 5th -$500.00. Payout is based on a 50 team participation.

Rules: Two-person team event. Tournament starts and ends at Nick’s Seafood Restaurant. Anglers may launch from their desired location, but must check in with the Official Boat between the hours of 5:00 AM and 7:00 AM for their boat card before fishing. The Official Boat will be located behind Nick’s Restaurant on the Choctawhatchee Bay at N30.29.103 W 086.15.194. Anglers may fish for the tournament once they have checked in with the Official Boat. Both anglers must be present and have their tournament card at weigh-in. All fish submitted for weigh-in must be of legal size between 18 and 27 inches and caught the same Tournament day. Weigh-in will be at Nick’s Seafood Restaurant. Fish must be alive and in good condition upon weigh-in. Any alterations and/or tampering of weight or size of redfish is strictly prohibited and will result in immediate disqualification from tournament, as well as permanent disqualification in future tournaments. Any fish that appears to have been penned, mangled, mauled, mashed or otherwise altered will not be scored. Each team may only have the tournament limit of two (2) redfish in their possession at any time during the tournament. Redfish will be measured with a closed mouth and pinched tail and must be between 18 and 27 inches. All contestants must follow the laws of the Florida Wildlife Commission. Live wells will be checked at official boat.

Scoring – The team score will be the total weight of two (2) redfish weighed in together. Redfish must be between 18 and 27 inches long. Bring fish alive to the scale. Dead fish will receive a one pound deduction per fish upon weigh-in.

Weigh in time – Weigh in will be at Nick’s Restaurant starting at 4:00 PM. Any team not checked in by 5:00 PM will be disqualified. No fish will be judged before 4:00 PM.

Mystery Weight – Two (2) Legal fish that have a total weight to be determined.

Spots Division- Only one Redfish per team will be eligible for the spot count division. Angler must declare at the scale which fish he wishes to enter in the spot count. The tournament official will count and document for each team.

Smallest Two (2) – The team that enters two legal redfish with the lightest total weight. (Dead fish penalty, the one pound deduction per redfish, will not apply).

Cancellation – The tournament director may cancel or postpone the tournament due to his discretion but not limited to inclement weather or less than a 50-team participation. Call Trey Nick at (850) 835-2222 or (850) 830-6161.

Ties – In the event of a tie, the team that has the earliest official weigh-in time takes precedence.

Gear/Fishing Methods – Hook and line, live or artificial bait only; cast nets or entanglement nets are prohibited. Anglers must fish with a boat. Wade fishing is permitted.

Notes to fisherman: Nicks Boat Ramp, at Basin Bayou, might be too shallow for some vessels to enter into the Choctawhatchee Bay and may need to seek other launching destinations

*All anglers and team winners will be subject to a Polygraph Examination prior to prize money being awarded.*

ALL CONTESTANTS MUST BE REGISTERED BY 7:00 PM CT FRIDAY May 16, 2014.

All Times referenced is Central Standard Time (CST).

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Walton bay and river fishing report for April 2

specktrout23Fishing is good for those that get out there

Choctawhatchee Bay: Good amount of speckled trout and sheepshead.

River: River is high, but folks have been reeling in catfish.

Click here for fishing forecast

Bay and river report brought to you by Copeland’s. “Where the locals shop and the tourists are welcome.”

Click here to find out more about Copeland’s.
Copeland’s Gun and Tackle Shop
17290 U.S. Hwy. 331 S
Freeport, Florida 32439
(850) 835-4277
Store hours:
Mon. – Fri.: 6 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Sat.: 6 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Sun.: Closed

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