Celebrating Earth Day in Walton County
The arrival of Earth Day this year gives us all the more reason to step back and appreciate the natural splendor that fills Walton County. Thankfully, the area is also filled with local groups that are dedicated to the conservation of our pristine scenery. And their work has been quite successful thus far. After all, roughly 40% of the land here has been preserved for nature.
There’s really no better way to appreciate nature than by getting out in it. To that end, there are endless miles of trails for exploring by bike or on foot. We’re home to several state parks and forests that showcase everything from longleaf pine flatwoods and moss-draped live oaks to bald cypress swamps and stunning spring-fed swimming holes. These spaces include Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, which has been identified as the most pristine piece of coastal property in Florida.
South Walton is also home to 15 rare coastal dune lakes, the likes of which are only found elsewhere in locales such as Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar. These lakes provide an essential transition from saltwater to freshwater environments. They are critically important to the coast because they store and filter water, creating a habitat for a unique mix of plants and animals. Exploring them atop a stand-up paddleboard is a great way to encounter the flora and fauna.
For more than 20 years, the nonprofit Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) has worked on maintaining healthy local waterways and water quality in general. As part of its restoration program, the CBA builds living shorelines in the Choctawhatchee Bay, which are comprised of either oyster shell artificial reefs or native shoreline grass plantings. Located at Northwest Florida State College’s South Walton Center, the organization conducts restoration and research, while also offering educational classes and workshops at local schools.
Of course, not all the visitors who instinctively return here are human. Over the years, sea turtles have migrated toward our sugar-white sand to create nests in the local dunes. The Friends of South Walton Sea Turtles is a volunteer-only nonprofit that’s dedicated to nurturing and protecting sea life along the area’s beaches and rare coastal dune lakes. Their work helps keep this vibrant ecosystem safe for the turtles as they make their pilgrimage.
The E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center was named after biologist, naturalist and writer Edward Osborne Wilson, referred to as “the father of sociobiology and biodiversity.” The 28,000 square-foot center is located on the equally impressive Nokuse Plantation, the largest block of privately-owned conservation land in the southeastern United States. This protected area consists of close to 54,000 acres of land where nearly 6 million longleaf pine seedlings were planted and countless endangered animal species have been introduced. A visit to the center is sure to be informative and help make you a naturalist at heart.
And Earth Day doesn’t have to be just about getting out in the wild. Even our beach neighborhoods are filled with gardens, tree groves and green spaces that make it easy to appreciate the beauty of nature right in the midst of civilization! Whether you’re in the middle of a round of golf or lounging on the beach, take a few minutes here and there to look around and soak it all in.