Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A rainy day on the Gulf Shore at St. Andrews State Park

The Florida State Parks system is pretty incredible… 175 parks, trails and historic sites are scattered around the state, providing public access to some of the most beautiful beaches, scenic natural areas, and historic landmarks in the Southeast. The next stop on our Florida panhandle exploration was St. Andrews State Park, part of the barrier island chain that protects Panama City.

The park was originally opened in 1951 with 302 acres along the Gulf Shore. Now more than 1,200 acres, the area has a long history of human presence, from the Native Americans who collected shellfish from the surrounding waters, to the WWII military reservation. We awoke to a steady drizzle, but decided to head to St. Andrews regardless in hopes the rain would taper off and allow us the opportunity to explore.

As often is our habit, we started off in the Visitor Center. Because of the weather we had it pretty much to ourselves, and after watching a movie and admiring the dozens of species of shells found in the park, a ranger introduced us to the resident corn snake.

Our original plan was to take the ferry out to Shell Island, originally Lands End Peninsula but separated when Gulf-Bay Pass was dredged in the 1930s. Shell Island is reputed to be a stretch of beach as peaceful and unspoiled as can be found in Florida, with a plethora of shells to be found and seabird & sea turtle nests in the dunes. However it was not meant to be; the ferry wasn’t running due to the weather, and we wouldn’t be able to stick around for another day in hopes of a sunnier day.


Our perseverance was rewarded though, as the near-empty park was our playground for the morning. We donned our raincoats and headed to Gator Lake trail for a short hike, and had barely left the car when we saw our first alligator. For the less adventurous, a pier provides a safe vantage point over the lake, while those looking to stretch their legs will find scenic lakeside views on a short loop trail. Heron Pond Trail is the second option, located near the ferry boat pier. It traverses a flatwood pine forest, leading past the replica turpentine still; the Cracker Turpentine Still was donated in 1963 by the Lewis Family and relocated from Bristol. Both Gator Lake and Heron Pond trails provide visitors with multiple wildlife viewing opportunities, from the resident alligators to a variety of waterfowl & wading birds. Opposite the parking area for the Gator Lake trail (which is home to a great blue heron rookery) is Buttonbush Marsh, which can be easily accessed by an overlook on the north portion of the loop road, and here you’ll see dozens of species of birds feeding and nesting.

After a snack we headed out to the beach, the rain slowly clearing as we crossed over the boardwalk out to the grey waters of the Gulf. At the very tip of the peninsula is the Gun Mount Pavilion, home to one of the original gun mounts that overlooked the pass back in the 1940s. A jetty protects a beach area facing Shell Island, while a long stretch of white sands connect to the Gulf Fishing Pier. We walked, searched for shells, marveled at the beauty of the dunes rising over the beach and tried to stay warm in the Gulf winds.

The recreational options seem endless: hiking, biking, boating, swimming, camping, fishing, picnicking, snorkeling and surfing… Despite (or maybe in spite?) of the rain we had gotten a taste of St. Andrews State Park and the white sand beaches of the Gulf barrier islands, and luckily there would be more opportunities to enjoy the waters in the days to come…

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you made the best of a rainy day in FL.... Florida does have some gorgeous parks and hiking areas...

    Hope your weather improved the next day!


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