Join the South Walton Community Council for a fun weekend of nature based activities Oct. 15-17. The Back to Nature Festival offers visitors and locals an opportunity to explore the natural beauty of Walton County.
Kayak the dune lakes, take a river safari, go on an ecology walk, or bring the family to Seaside for a day of family fun.
Most events are about two hours long and cost $10 unless otherwise noted. Events will be closed after maximum participant limits are reached so register early! Registration will begin in mid-September. To register, Click here
Friday, Oct. 15
6 p.m. – Welcome Night at Bud and Alley’s – Come to the welcome night for the 9th Annual Back to Nature Festival at Bud and Alley’s Restaurant in Seaside! Enjoy a strolling dinner with live music by Bill Evett. Complimentary house selected wine or beer and cash bar will be available. You will have the opportunity to meet event leaders and fellow nature enthusiasts, register for events, and preview selected items for the silent auction to be held on Saturday. All proceeds from the silent auction and a percentage of proceeds from the strolling dinner go to benefit the mission of the SWCC, to preserve and protect our natural environment. $25 per person. ::MAP::
Saturday, Oct. 16
6:30 a.m. – Sunrise Meditation – Come join Julie Wilcox on a guided inner journey to bring us Back to (Our) Nature. The Morning Sunrise ritual will be 45 minutes and include gentle yoga stretch, breath exercise and sitting mediation; all preparation to receive the nurturing and sustaining influence of nature. Invite rejuvenation and exhilaration as you begin your day with Julie at 6:30 am (just before sunrise) on the beach in front of the obelisk next to Bud & Alley’s in Seaside. Wear warm loose clothing and bring a towel, blanket or cushion to define your space in the sand. FREE ::MAP::
7:00 a.m. – Deer Lake Shorebird & Beach Walk – Deer Lake State Park is one of the rare gems of the Emerald Coast with its undisturbed dunes and swaying sea oats, and the shorebirds running along the sugar white sandy beaches. On Saturday from 7-9 am, come join the park staff and volunteers as they walk along the park’s quarter-mile boardwalk for a panoramic view of the beach dune ecosystem. The walk will then head west along the beach to the shorebird nesting area to observe endangered Snowy Plovers and other shorebirds foraging along the way. The walk will end at the natural outfall from Deer Lake, a rare coastal dune lake found only in South Walton County and a few other places in the world. ::MAP::
9:00 a.m. – Choctawhatchee River Safari – Explore the waterways of Choctawhatchee River and Bay. Expect to see alligators, turtles, birds of prey and other fascinating wildlife. Meet at Point Washington boat ramp on Tucker Bayou at north end of Highway 395. Maximum 6 participants per tour. Fixed price $30. ::MAP::
9:00 a.m. – Tracking the Wild Critters – Ever wondered what animal made those tracks in the sand? Or what animals eat, and how they find each other? Take a guided hike through Topsail Hill Preserve State Park and learn how to find animals in the wild and to identify tracks made by raccoons, mice, alligators, and other animals. Event leader Mike Townsend is an expert trapper who works with local parks to protect endangered species of wildlife. Enter the park through the Highway 98 entrance and follow the road to the beach parking area. Limit 20 people. ::MAP::
10 a.m. – 8 p.m. – Family Fun Day – Family Fun Day at the Seaside Amphitheater will be the site of a fun filled day of family activities including kid-friendly workshops, demonstrations, informational booths, live music, films, and events. Free. ::MAP::
1:00 p.m. – Wildflowers and Butterflies: A Hike Through Pt. Washington State Forest – Take a walk on the wild side of nature. Enjoy an interpretive hiking tour where you will have the opportunity to explore natural habitats, meet local flora and fauna face to face and experience the hidden natural wonders of Walton County that most tourists never get to see. Learn about native plants, wildflowers, migrating and local butterflies while enjoying a leisurely hike through the forest. Snookie Parrish, master gardener and master naturalist will offer this guided tour of East Point Washington State Forest. Meet on Saturday at Eastern Lake Trail parking area, on east side of Highway 395 about ½ mile north of Publix supermarket. Limit 20 participants. ::MAP:
4:00 p.m. – Labyrinth in the Sand
The labyrinth is a guided, reflective walk using a labyrinth on the sands of Grayton Beach State Park. The labyrinth represents an orderly path that can quiet the mind, offer insights, and provide a sense of wholeness and well-being. Come with an open mind and heart. Led by Anne Hornstein of Destin, a facilitator of adventures using movement, music, art, writing and drama to assist participants in exploring their creative spirits and improving their brain power. Meet at beach behind beachside pavilion in Grayton Beach State Park. ::MAP::
Sunday, October 17
6:30 a.m. – Sunshine meditation – Join Julie Wilcox on a guided inner journey to bring us Back to (Our) Nature. The Morning Sunrise ritual will be 45 minutes and include gentle yoga stretch, breath exercise and sitting mediation; all preparation to receive the nurturing and sustaining influence of nature. Invite rejuvenation and exhilaration as you begin your day with Julie at 6:30 am (just before sunrise) on the beach in front of the obelisk next to Bud & Alley’s in Seaside. Wear warm loose clothing and bring a towel, blanket or cushion to define your space in the sand. FREE ::MAP::
8 a.m. – Swamp Tromp – This is a 3 hour hike that explores several large cypress swamps as well as some old growth trees and wetlands. This hike is for people in good health who can comfortably hike at least six miles with some sandy patches. Hikers should bring plenty of water and some snacks. There will be some stunning photo opportunities for the photographers in the group. The hike is limited to 10 people. Come a few minutes early and park at the Eastern Lake Nursery. They have graciously allowed us to use their parking area. The Nursery is located on 30-A between Seagrove and Eastern Lake. This hike is led by nature enthusiast and SWCC executive director Anita Page. Meet on Sunday at 8:00 am.
9 a.m. – Longleaf Greenway Trail Bike Cruise – Take in a stretch of the single track bike path through Point Washington State Forest and Grayton Beach State Park. Distance is approximately 4.5-5.0 miles and trail is mostly firm with a few sandy stretches. The pace is mild with numerous stops to discuss forest ecology and the variety of ecosystems we will pass through. The trip will take about 2.5 hours and will include a refreshment stop with ice water and fruit. Standard supplies are appropriate…personal water, hats, insect repellents, sunscreen, etc. Meet at the Co. Hwy. 83 bike path kiosk (approximately .5 miles North of 30A). Provide your own bike or rent at Big Daddy’s 850-622-1165. Bike helmets highly recommended. To insure a high quality experience a maximum of 12 participants is set.
10:00 a.m. – YOLO Boarding – YOLO (You Only Live Once) paddle tour. Take a leisurely paddle around Eastern Lake and into the lake outfall as you learn the basics of the fastest growing new water sport — Stand Up Paddling. This is an easy trip suitable for beginning stand-up paddlers. Led by members of YOLO Board, a locally owned stand-up paddle company, you will have an opportunity to tour Eastern Lake and see it from a whole new perspective — standing up! If you want to rent a YOLO Board for $15, please call (850) 622-5760 in advance to secure a rental. $25 per person. Meeting place to be determined later. Maximum 12 participants. ::MAP::
11:00 a.m. Western Lake Kayaking – Take a leisurely paddle around Western Lake and into the lake outfall as you learn about the unique features of coastal dune lakes. This is an easy trip suitable for beginning kayakers. Tour led by Brooke Saari, the Sea Grant Marine Science Agent for Okaloosa and Walton County Extension with the University of Florida IFAS program. You must furnish your own kayak. If you want to rent a kayak, please call Big Daddy’s at (850) 622-1165 in advance to secure a rental. Meet at the boat ramp inside Grayton Beach State Park. Maximum 20 participants. ::MAP::
At Four-Mile Village near Sandestin is the Coffeen Nature Preserve, noted for its beautiful forest and lake and for the Sand Pine Military Trail, where one can view remnants of the military presence dating back to 1944 when the US tested captured German V-1 rockets here. Participants will enjoy the special treat of visiting areas of the preserve normally not open for visitation. Led by Susan and Bruce Paladini, caretakers of the preserve. Enter Four Mile Village on south side of Hwy. 98, just east of Sandestin and follow signs to parking area. Maximum 20 participants. ::MAP::
12 Noon – 2 p.m. – Sandcastles with Mark Flynn – Do your towers collapse, even before the siege starts? Bothered by fallen arches? Do your walls make you feel unfortified? Sand Castle 101 teaches you and your family and friends how to change beach sand into an imposing castle. Your instructor is Mark Flynn, professional sand sculptor and local beach bum. Meet at Ed Walline Park.
1 p.m. – Forest Ecology: A Hike Through Pt. Washington State Forest – Explore the ecology of local forests on an informative hike through the varied natural habitats of the Pt. Washington State Forest. Learn to identify three of the main natural communities that dominate Northwest Florida, their common trees and plants, and the animals that call them home. Hike and listen to the colorful human and political history of the State Forest and see firsthand the vital role of fire in keeping the forest healthy. The hike is led by naturalist Christian Wagley. Meet on Sunday at Eastern Lake Trail parking area, on east side of Highway 395 about ½ mile north of Publix supermarket. Limit 20 participants. ::MAP:
2:00 p.m. – Historic Point Washington Walking Tour – Members of the Historic Association will lead this tour on a walk about to historic sites, homes and local cemeteries. Meeting first at the Point Washington Methodist Church on Hwy 395N, groups of 10 will form and be provided with a guide to visit locations of historical interest. Lasting for about two hours, docents and historical interpreters will share tales of the lumber mills, ferryboats, churches, schools and Indian settlements. Parking will be available at the church site.
4:30 p.m. – Hogtown Bayou Sunset Paddle – Wrap-up the weekend with a wonderful paddle into twilight! Begin paddling at dusk and wind your way along Hogtown Bayou as night falls. Enjoy the dark night sky, views of marsh and open bayou, and wildlife. Learn about some of the natural features of the bayou, including seagrasses, birds, and an endangered fish species that calls the bayou home. You must furnish your own kayak. If you want to rent a kayak, please call The Kayak Experience at (850) 837-1577 or Big Daddy’s in advance to secure a rental kayak. Meet at Charles Cessna Landing on Highway 393 north. Maximum 15 people; beginner to moderate skill levels required. ::MAP::
5:45 p.m. – Gator Watch at Topsail State Park – Explore the world of the Florida alligator at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. A park ranger will guide you to the banks of a lake where you can see a large gator lair and learn more about these ancient creatures. The tour starts at 5:45 at the day entrance parking area on CR 30A. From the day entrance you’ll catch the trolley to the trailhead. From there, you will make a short hike to the lake. Afterwards you will walk back to the day entrance parking lot so there is some hiking involved. You will also be walking in the dark so it is a great opportunity to see some of the night inhabitants of the park. Please wear closed toe shoes as some of the hiking is through the woods! Bring binoculars, insect repellant and a flashlight. The tour will last approximately an hour and a half and is limited to 12 participants.. ::MAP::