When I first moved to the beach in 2005, I relied primarily on the main pedestrian/bike trail on 30A for most of my outdoor exercise, but once a friend introduced me to the various trails in the area, I was hooked. I became an annual passholder several years ago, and I haven’t looked back since. I discover more benefits of membership every year, and I’ll share some of them with you.
Having grown up on a farm where every plant and animal was familiar to me, I still sometimes feel a little disoriented by Florida’s amazing variety of flowers, trees, shrubs, birds and other wildlife I can’t label. After almost every trip through the forest, I leave with several pictures on my phone of plants I can’t identify. When I have time, I research these colorful treasures and commit the names and details to memory. In particular, I love the giant clusters of blue lupine, the flower that gives Blue Mountain Beach its name. When they start blooming in spring, I know it’s time to get ready for another great season on 30A. Given the abundant flora and fauna in my neighborhood of South Walton County, I will forever be learning.
There are several trails I use more often than any others, especially the Eastern Lake trail system off Highway 395 and the Topsail Hill State Park trail system. They are close to my house, and parking is very easy. Just display your annual pass on the dashboard of your car, park and the trailheads are just a few yards away. Also, both have restrooms and places to change clothes if needed.
If you aren’t around enough to justify an annual pass or aren’t sure if you want one, you can also buy day passes for only a few dollars per day per vehicle.
Luckily, there are almost endless side trails, logging roads and other detours I may explore without ever retracing my steps. I have not spent much time in the Point Washington trail system, but that is one of my goals for the coming year because I’m told the wildflowers and birds there are beautiful.
From moonlight paddling on Lake Powell, guided nature and history lessons at St. Andrews, pumpkin picking at Camp Helen’s pumpkin patch, or kite-flying on Okaloosa Island, our state parks offer countless opportunities to learn and play with friends and family.
Even in the busiest summer months, it’s easy to walk a whole trail without encountering more than one or two other people. When South Walton County is crowded, and I’m tired from being on the phone or sitting in traﬃc between appointments all day, the trails are a wonderful place to rest. I put on a nerdy podcast, set out walking and spend an hour or two alone with my thoughts.
Many people, including scientists, therapists, botanists (and enthusiastic real estate professionals) will profess the benefits of time on trails. In Japan, the ancient practice of shinrin-yoku — translated “forest bathing” — is still common practice today. Guides even encourage hikers to talk to the trees. I haven’t gone that far, but when I’m in the woods of South Walton County, it’s certainly tempting to say, aloud, “Thank you.”