Panhandle Outdoors LIVE offering ecological field excursions across Northwest Florida

February 19, 2013

UFextensionExplore nature with a Natural Resource Extension Agent 

The Natural Resource Extension Agents of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science (UF/IFAS) present the 2013 edition of Panhandle Outdoors LIVE, a series of guided field excursions highlighting unique ecological features throughout Northwest Florida. Trips begin in March 2013 and run monthly through November 2013, and participants can choose to attend as many or as few of the individual events as they wish.

Each day starts at 9:30 a.m. central/10:30 a.m. eastern and runs to 4:00 central/5:00 eastern.  Depending on location, moderate walking, hiking, swimming, and/or paddling may be involved.  Lunch, park entry fees, and rentals will be provided for each participant (18 and up only) at a cost of $30.  Registration is available at, and space is limited, so register early! Necessary equipment and clothing will vary based on weather and location, but participants should bring sturdy shoes, drinking water, sunscreen, and a camera to each trip. Transportation to each location will be facilitated by carpooling, and some counties may be able to provide transportation.

For more information, please contact Brooke Saari, Okaloosa/Walton County Extension by phone 689-5850 or email

The expedition schedule is as follows:

March 15 – Aucilla River Sinks
•    Join us for a five mile hike along this complex and fascinating portion of natural Florida.  Your guides will include authorities on the history, geology, flora and fauna of the area. We’ll meet at JR’s store on Hwy 98 near the Aucilla bridge and the Jefferson-Taylor line (23485 US 98. Lamont, FL) at 10:30 am Eastern time and travel in vans to the trail. We should be back at JR’s by 5 pm.

March 28  – The Panhandle Pioneer Settlement and connected Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail
•    Travel to Calhoun County and stroll back in time touring a working pioneer village created from historic relocated dwellings of panhandle Florida.  This village is nestled in Florida sandy scrub habitat bordered by wetlands of Sutton Creek.  After our guided tour of the Settlement we will hike parts of the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife trail and Florida Trail which surround the Settlement and wind through Blountstown to the Apalachicola River.  The hiking level will be “easy.”  For the birders among you, bring your binoculars!  Lunch, water, and tea will be provided and enjoyed under the shade of towering pines and oaks at the park.  Parts of our tour will be guided by local botanists from the Calhoun County Herbarium, and Bill Boothe a local naturalist and wildlife photographer.

April 2  – Pitcher Plants and Weeks Bay
•    Weeks Bay is one of 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves in the United States.  Located on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, the Weeks Bay Reserve encompasses 6,000 acres of wetlands.  There are two boardwalks and an education center.  One of the boardwalks winds through a pitcher plant bog, with opportunities not only to view these carnivorous wonders, but a variety of wildflowers, birds, and reptiles as well.  The second boardwalk is behind the center and leads to a saltmarsh community opening into Weeks Bay.  The education center has a variety of interpretive exhibits introducing visitors to the wildlife of coastal Alabama. The trip also includes a pontoon boat ride along the 2.5 mile Weeks Bay to view aquatic wildlife. The hikes are along boardwalks but good walking shoes (slip resistant, closed toed) are needed for the trails and boat.  Suggested personal items to bring include a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, a dry bag for binoculars, camera, water, trail food, and rain gear. We will meet at the Food Tiger Grocery Store at the corner of Lillian Highway (Highway 98) and Bauer Road in southwest Escambia County (12255 Lillian Highway; Pensacola).  We will leave this location at 8:45 to reach the reserve by 10:00 am, central time.  If you are driving straight to the reserve take I-10 west from Pensacola to Malbis Exit #38 (AL 181) and exit.  At traffic light at end of off ramp, turn left (south) onto AL 181 and travel approximately 20 mi to US-98. Turn left onto US 98 and go about 0.5 mi. Look for Weeks Bay Reserve on right.  Address: 11401 US Highway 98 Fairhope AL 36532.

May 8  – Coastal Dune Lakes
•    This educational tour will lead participants on a journey of the unique natural treasures, the coastal dune lakes of Walton County.  Coastal dune lakes are rare ecosystems found in only a few places around the world.  These lakes are permanent water bodies, composed of fresh & salt water, that create a natural opening to the Gulf of Mexico during flood water levels.  These characteristics make these dynamic water bodies biodiversity hotspots.  The Florida Natural Areas Inventory determined that Walton County’s dune lakes are imperiled globally, due to rarity and critically imperiled in the state of Florida, due to extreme rarity.  Each lake has its own unique character, which will be explored during this tour.  We will visit four to five of these gems along Scenic HWY 30A, stop at many photo spots, discuss water quality, take a short hike along the dune system and enjoy a picnic lunch in one of the local state parks.  Our tour will span from Campbell Lake to Deer Lake and travel through many of the unique communities of South Walton County.  Participants should plan for easy to moderate short hiking, getting in and out of vans and/or bus, being outside in the sun, and possible windy conditions associated with coastal areas.  Bring a hat, water bottle, sun glasses, sunscreen, camera, binoculars, light layered clothing, and rain gear (if needed).  Tour will happen rain or shine, but stops may be altered depending on weather for comfort of the participants.  Space is limited to 30 participants.

June 6  – Yellow River & Boiling Creek
•    This trip will lead participants on a 6.6 mile kayak trip through Boiling Creek to Yellow River.  Boiling Creek is a clear, sandy bottom, meandering creek located on the Eglin Air Force Reservation.  Boiling Creek gets its name from underground springs and the water is so clear, that many paddlers compare a trip on Boiling Creek to paddling in an aquarium. Some spots on the creek are 9 feet deep. Originating in the Conecuh Forest, Yellow River is one of the swiftest rivers in Florida. Gulf Sturgeon spend summers in Yellow River and a resting site is near the confluence of Yellow River and Boiling Creek.  Many species of plants can be found along the banks, including white-top pitcher plants, floating water lilies, submerged grasses, cypress trees and more. Various animals including birds, reptiles, fish and mammals may be spotted along this path. This trip is a 6.6 mile serene paddle on Boiling Creek to Yellow River.  Participants should plan for moderate kayaking. Bring hat, sunscreen, trail snacks, rain gear, and a dry bag for binoculars, camera, etc. We will meet at 9:30 am central time, just off of I-10, at Exit 31 at a location to be announced.  Space is limited to 15 participants.

August 15  – Saltwater Marshes of St. Andrews Bay
•    In The middle of the south’s spring break capital lies a pocket of nature rarely touched or explored. In this is adventure we will visit a coastal wetlands mitigation bank with a variety of swamps and marsh habitats. Armies of Fiddler crabs march across salt flats avoiding tide waters and predators. We’ll see a variety of coastal birds and estuarine fish. You’ll enjoy finding the tranquility of nature moments from the busyness of Panama City Beach. We will be using kayaks and hiking. Sunscreen, water bottle, and bug repellent are a must. Lunch and snacks included. (additional details soon).  Space is limited to 15 participants

September 24  – Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve
•    In this adventure will visit the center of Apalachicola’s seafood industry and coastal resources. Highlighting the trip will be Apalachicola National Estuarine Reseach Reserve. The new Apalachicola Environmental Education and Training Center is nestled along Apalachicola Bay amidst scrub live oaks and saw palmetto. It features 18,000 square feet of learning space, including two working wet and dry research laboratories. Representing the river, bay and gulf habitats found in Apalachicola, the center features three large walk-around tanks that each hold over 1,000 gallons and house a variety of native plant life and creatures. (Additional details soon)

October 3  – Blackwater River State Forest
•    October is Florida Forestry Month. Join us in this celebration for a trip to the Florida Forest Service’s crown jewel, the Blackwater River State Forest.
Blackwater River State Forest is known for its longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem. The Blackwater River State Forest connects with the Conecuh National Forest to the north and Eglin Air Force Base to the south; it is the largest contiguous ecological community of this type in the world! Longleaf pine communities are rich in plant and animal life, including many classified as endangered, threatened or species of special concern. The forest encompasses more than 200,000 acres in Florida. Participants on this trip will learn about conservation efforts for the Red Cockaded Woodpecker, Longleaf Pine/Wiregrass ecosystem management, Krul and Bear lakes, the Blackwater River and its tributaries and experience the beauty of a pitcher plant bog. Pitcher plant bogs are unique areas containing a diversity of carnivorous plants which lure, trap and then digest insects. The carnivorous plants of the forest include sundews, butterworts, bladderworts, and four species of pitcher plants. Walking will be moderate. Dress for weather conditions, if it has been raining plan to wear water proof shoes or boots. Bring sunscreen, a hat, trail food, rain gear, and a dry bag for binoculars, camera, etc.
•    We will meet at the Florida Forest Service Center in Munson at 10:00 a.m. central time.
Florida Forest Service
11650 Munson Hwy., 
Milton, FL 32570 
850/ 957-6140

November 15 – Seagrasses & Manatees of Apalachee Bay
•    Aquarium-clear seagrass beds of Apalachee Bay beckon exploration of creek mouths guarded by palm-studded marsh. Manatees should be feeding on this high-tide expedition. If the wind is down, we will hear them breathe when they gently break the surface of still water.  Join a small, lucky group of intrepid kayak adventurers for this launch from Wakulla Beach. You’ll be guided by Extension volunteer Master Wildlife Conservationist Kent Mayer and Natural Resources Extension Agent Will Sheftall. Bring your own boat, or we’ll provide one for you. The pace will be leisurely, and the distance moderate.  What animals will we see making their living in this remote, pristine corner of St Marks National Wildlife Refuge? Bring your binoculars! What is this magical coastline’s vulnerability to present and future threats? Come look, see, listen, hear, feel, float, paddle and learn. You’ll think anew about humanity’s dependence on North Florida’s fragile and exhaustible water resources, as you drink in this wild and wonderful place!