Rare, Diverse & Beautiful: Coastal Dune Lakes
The pristine beauty is well documented in Walton County, where 40% of the land south of the Choctawhatchee Bay is preserved for nature.
And a true ecological treasure here are our rare coastal dune lakes, the likes of which are found only in a handful of worldwide locations such as Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand and Oregon.
There are 15 named coastal dune lakes in Walton County. These shallow, irregularly shaped depressions are only about 5 feet deep on average. Adding to their uniqueness, the local dune lakes have an intermittent connection with the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to maintaining the exchange of fresh and salt water, this so-called “outfall” also helps the lakes control flooding.
Our dune lakes are highly important to the coast because they store and filter water. And while the water may not be as stunning as the nearby turquoise Gulf, it is equally fascinating. The brownish color of a coastal dune lake is due to the breakdown of organic matter, similar to when you make tea. It makes for a complex ecosystem that supports a diverse range of both saltwater and freshwater plant and animal species.
To help protect these rare natural treasures, Walton County has established several measures, including erosion control and a detailed stormwater plan. Almost every coastal dune lake here is afforded a 100-foot undisturbed shoreline setback buffer and a 50-foot undisturbed setback buffer from either side of its natural outlet. Seawalls, bulkheads, revetments and rip-rap are all prohibited.
There are also groups dedicated to protecting these rare bodies of water. In place for 20 years, the county-appointed Coastal Dune Lake Advisory Board utilizes a combination of public education and promotion, while making informed recommendations to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners. Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance is a county partner that assists with education and outreach, as well as water quality monitoring and the removal of nuisance plants.
So, regardless if you’re a resident of the area or a visitor who was initially drawn by the nearby beach, take some time to explore these rare coastal dune lakes.
Some of the best launching points are found in local state parks such as Grayton Beach State Park and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, which provide direct access to the lakes. The Boathouse Paddle Club in WaterColor is situated right along the shore of Western Lake, arguably the county’s most popular coastal dune lake.
Each of the 15 lakes provides an amazing opportunity to get out in nature, whether you enjoy fishing, birding or hiking, or taking to the water on a kayak or stand-up paddleboard.