Trails, sculptures and serenity nestled along the trail in North Walton
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. Upland trails slope down to overlooks along the Shoal River. A variety of flowering native plants and sounds of birds entertain the hiker along the trails at the sanctuary.
Recorded history of the land 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.
In 2000, the Larsons acquired 35 acres of land adjacent to their existing 16-acre property, and began a reforestation project blazing trails and developed the retreat along their Shoal river property. Long-leaf pine, ash magnolia, Torreya pine and other native trees have been planted to restore the land, as the Larsons participate in Florida’s Forest Stewardship program.
A tour experience suited for all ages awaits along the trails of the sanctuary, as the Larson’s share their knowledge of indigenous fauna and flora. Robert has created sculptures in in a variety of mediums including stone and metal. Each piece nestled along the trail tells a different story of harmony and nature.
Take a hike down a steephead, and you will discover a small seepage waterfall feeding a creek. Moss covers the sides of the ravine, and ancient mollusks coat the sides and bottom of the creek. This special place has been the subject of historical research, and has been on the national geological registry since 1926.
In 2001, Chris and Robert Larson planted 23 Florida Torreya Yew (Torreya taxiflora) seedlings, an endangered native conifer, at their sanctuary. As of 2015, four of those seedlings have survived and grown into healthy trees. The trees are automatically watered every week and occasionally “limed” if the evergreen leaves show signs of yellowing.
As part of an assisted migration project, more seeds were planted in 2015 by area children. The seeds were donated by Torreya Guardians, an organization dedicated to the preservation of the endangered tree.
The children named their seed and the names are etched in runic decrees by Robert Larson.
Camping is available, and the Larson home can accommodate 2-10 overnight guests. Spend the night and roast marshmallows as tales are told around the campfire.
Suggested donation: $15
How to get there
Shoal Sanctuary is located in northern Walton County Florida in the community of Mossy Head. It is approximately 5 miles from exit 70 on I-10.
Call for reservations: Phone: (850) 651-0392
For more information, go to: www.ShoalSanctuary.com