Many vacation destinations require sprawling day-long expeditions to truly enjoy an area’s diverse natural beauty. But for folks staying on St. George Island, a quick drive to the north side of the SGI Bridge reveals the second-largest estuarine research reserve system in the United States.

The Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Nature Center — or ANERR, as the locals call it — features more than 1,300 species of plants, 131 species of fish, and 50 species of mammals within 246,000 acres nestled along Apalachicola Bay.

It’s great for nature lovers who enjoy sightseeing, and the more curious who want to learn more about the environment around them.

Open Tuesday through Saturday, ANERR features winding paths that incorporate pine flat woods, oak hammocks and freshwater marshes where cattails and sawgrass grow wild. It is a photographer’s dream with a variety of scenery at every turn, especially near Millender Park, a prime picnic area with views of Apalachicola Bay and the volunteer-made breakwater area.

There are signs posted to keep a lookout for black bears, and while it may be a rare occurrence to actually see one, it should give you an idea of how diverse the wildlife found in ANERR is.

The reserve’s Nature Center features 18,000 square feet of learning space including two working wet and dry research laboratories. It overlooks the Cat Point oyster bar, which is one of the most productive oyster bars in Apalachicola Bay. At low tide, tidal flats and parts of oyster reefs are exposed.

In the Education Center, there are three large water tanks representing the river, bay and gulf habitats found in the Apalachicola area. Each tank holds more than 1,000 gallons and houses a variety of native plant life and creatures.

For more than a century, Apalachicola and Eastpoint have been working waterfronts, fostering generations of fishermen whose industries have only been sustainable due to the health and productivity of Apalachicola Bay. The Education Center focuses on that aspect of local history, with exhibits showing the evolution of oyster industry, and more. A beautiful, 80-foot mural is also on display, depicting area ecosystems.

One of ANERR’s signature events revolves around National Estuaries Day each September. Activities include free, fun and educational stations for kids and adults including marine animal touch tanks, and estuary-themed games including Microplastic Match-Up, Reptile Round-Up and Pin the Tag on the Monarch. In addition to this, there are educational events held year-round.

ANERR is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and for more information call 850-670-7700 or visit apalachicolareserve.com.

While we spend a spend a majority of our time enjoying St. George Island, it’s our wonderful neighboring communities who also make the Forgotten Coast the panhandle’s best destination. So sometimes we like to stretch our legs and escape for a bit and being just a few miles to our east, Carrabelle makes for a pleasant escapade.

The area has some of the best hunting, fishing, hiking and camping on the coast, with over 750,000 acres of public forest where eagles, deer, blue heron, osprey and black bear can be seen, depending on the season. And that massive acreage includes nearby Tate’s Hell State Forest and the convergence of the Carrabelle, Crooked and New rivers, which are perfect for canoes and kayaks.

At Carrabelle Beach, Crooked River Lighthouse Park is a fun place to visit and experience a bit of history. It features the 103-foot lighthouse, where you can climb all 138 steps to the top for a great view of the area. The park also features a museum and, soon, will feature a centerpiece pirate ship known as the Carrabella II for kids to explore.

Craving a day of adventure? Dog Island is just a short jaunt to the south, by motor or paddle. The island is a fun place for adventure with pristine white sand beaches, good shelling, crabbing and shore fishing. Although it is now closed, the Pelican Inn is still there, reminding visitors that the island used to be inhabited. Now, it’s a prime destination for folks wanting a taste of pristine habitat, where hundreds of species of birds can be observed, and a picnic lunch is the best idea of the day.

For those who enjoy golf, hard-court tennis, aerobics and good food, the St. James Bay Golf Resort is open to the public and features the Crooked River Grill restaurant and a perfectly manicured 18-hole championship course.

Carrabelle is also home to a collective of local artists whose creations can be found throughout the area. And there are two main events each year, in addition to holiday celebrations like those at Christmas and the Fourth of July. Each August, the city hosts the Crab Cake Cook-off, which for the last three years has raised money to build the aforementioned Carrabella II. It’s a tasty chance to mingle and enjoy a variety of crab cake recipes using local seafood.

And the featured attraction each October is Lantern Fest, held at Crooked River Lighthouse. The glow from 123 lanterns will set the mood for an evening celebrating the lighthouse’s 123rd birthday. There’s dancing, Celtic music, star gazing with the Tallahassee Astronomical Society, children’s activities, delicious food and desserts, and special evening tower climbs at the tallest lighthouse on the Forgotten Coast.

Isn’t it wonderful to have all your family and friends under one roof in one of the most beautiful places on earth? That’s the advantage of staying on St. George Island with Resort Vacation Properties.

Some of our most inviting, large-capacity homes are within walking distance of the beach and have amenities sure to excite every member of your group. Take the people you love the most, mix them with ample measures of sunshine, sea breezes, and delicious meals, and you’re sure to have an experience like none other. All you have to do is decide which backdrop you prefer for whatever mood you may find yourself in!

Here are five examples of our large family homes, waiting for you and yours:

  1. 1st to the Beach — This 5-bedroom jewel on Sunset Beach sleeps 18 and is sure to bathe them all in natural light throughout the day. The decor carries the flavor of Tuscany, and from the cast-iron handrails up the staircase to the tile floors and wall hangings, you’ll feel as though the horizon might lead to the Mediterranean Sea instead of the Gulf of Mexico. The two master suites each have their own private balcony, and the 6-person hot tub is the perfect place for sunset cocktails in the evenings. With a private boardwalk to the beach and access to a community pool, this house has it all.
  2. Amore Di Sole — Spend a few minutes at this luxurious property and you’ll understand how its name translates to “Love in the Sun.” The centerpiece of Amore Di Sole is the expansive screened-in lanai with its 15×25-foot pool, which can be heated for your extended comfort. Even the hot tub is under cover, so privacy is kept at a premium for everyone in your group. Located right across the street from the beach, this home sleeps 16 and participates in the St. George Plantation amenities program, which includes two community pools, tennis and pickleball courts, the Plantation Clubhouse and fitness center, nature trails, access to Bob Sikes Cut, and more. And just to sweeten the deal, we’ve recently added an elevator for your convenience.
  3. Ohana — Also located in St. George Plantation, this is the place to make memories that will last forever. With three levels, hardwood floors throughout and seven bedrooms sleeping a grand total of 20, Ohana is the place to bring everyone together. The porches are amazing here, with rocking chairs and chaise lounges to enjoy the sunsets and the natural wonder evident throughout the Plantation. There are three master suites, a chef’s dream of a kitchen, and a game room with a 65-inch flat screen HDTV, Xbox with games, Foosball table, books, a DVD library, full bath and a queen sleeper sofa. Then there’s the 15×25-foot pool, hot tub, elevator, and array of beach toys and family-friendly items for when it’s time to hit the beach at the end of your private boardwalk. With all that, it’s easy to unite an entire family, right at the water’s edge.
  4. An Island Breeze — What’s not to love about a recently renovated home with breathtaking, unobstructed views from every room? Located in West Gulf Beaches, An Island Breeze offers plenty of just that for up to 14 guests. There’s so much new here, you’ll feel like it was customized just for you. The spaciously remodeled kitchen features new cabinets, pantry, granite countertops, new double-oven stove, and two sinks to take care of your group in the best way possible. And you can enjoy sunbathing and stargazing in the new hot tub and splashing around in the 11×24-foot private pool with the ample privacy 27 palm trees provide every day.
  5. Aqua Vista — Start every day staring at the Gulf through the main living area’s 30-foot windows, and your vacation will include nothing but great days. Even the third-floor loft shares the view, which you can enjoy on the top floor while you play pool, Foosball, Xbox or watch movies and have drinks thanks to the large flat-screen TV, fridge, and more. The beachfront home sleeps 16 and will allow two 20-lb. dogs, should your furry friends want to come along. With a private pool on the property and a gorgeous beach at the end of the boardwalk, inside and out this is a palace for you and yours.

Every year, sea breezes bring a bounty to St. George Island and the greater Forgotten Coast. Whether it’s to provide a lift to the summer heat, pollinate the gorgeous flowers, or carry the scents of sumptuous meals to come, more often than not coastal winds help make the area more enjoyable.

These coastal gusts also bring us a host of winged creatures that infuse every day with color and variety. Bird and butterfly watchers flock to the region with binoculars, cameras, and notepads, ready to celebrate and chronicle the insects and animals who either call the Florida Panhandle home or stop by every year for a week or two on their way to other parts of the world.

And the beauty of being a birder — or a butterfly-er — is that anyone who appreciates them can participate. Just an hour or two over the course of a vacation can make all the difference if you know where to look and what to look for.

As they rely on sugary nectar to live, many species of butterflies flock to colorful flowers, but did you know they can prefer mud puddles and riverbanks as well? And some don’t go near flowers at all, favoring rotting fruit or even tree sap when it comes to lunch. And that means St. George Island, its state park, and the bike paths and hiking trails in and around the Apalachicola area are perfect places to find monarchs, long-tailed skippers, swallowtails, and dozens more species.

Going fishing in the mornings or afternoon? Keep a look out and a field guide handy so you can check off the types of winged creatures you’ve seen. It will boggle your mind how many different species you can see even in a few hours. And while spring is a good season for butterflies, late summer and autumn are when the larger ones get out and about.

For birders, flying friends abound all year long in our area, and southwestern Franklin County is actually home to Apalachicola Bird Island, a strip of land right off the St. George Island Causeway. Other areas, such as Gulf Island State Park, St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge and the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve are prime places to seek out shorebirds, migratory birds, and woodland species.

Nearly 300 native species have been identified, including the endangered piping plover, as well as black rails, boat-tailed grackles, merlins, Peregrine falcons, least terns, and American oystercatchers, to name a few.

A broad diversity can be seen by powerboat, kayak, and canoe around Apalachicola Bay and the Apalachicola River, and along the hiking trails in the above parks and reserves — as well as in Tate’s Hell State Forest and Bald Point State Forest.

Staying on St. George Island for your vacation? Consider putting out a birdhouse or feeder to see who you might get as a visitor. You have plenty of places to seek out the feathered flocks; why not let a few come to you, too?

Want a unique tale to tell the folks back home, and something truly special to do during your stay on the island? Consider scalloping.

These tiny-yet-delectable mollusks grow in the grassy beds on the eastern end of St. George Island, and elsewhere along the Forgotten Coast such as St. Joseph Bay. Scallop season in Franklin County — home to Apalachicola and St. George Island — are in season from July 1 to Sept. 24; and in Gulf County (St. Joseph’s Bay), the season is shorter, running from Aug. 17 to Sept. 30.

Scalloping is an awesome activity for the whole family and requires very little in terms of gear. First, you’ll want to obtain a Florida saltwater fishing license, which can be had for a very reasonable $17 and is available at myfwc.com. After that, all you’ll need is a mesh net, a snorkel and mask, and a dive marker.

The dive marker is very important, as it alerts boaters in the area that there’s snorkeling going on. The dive marker is an orange or red float that’s towed around the snorkeler, and it’s required when shore snorkeling inland around St. George Island and in St. Joseph’s Bay.

You can scallop on your own, or through one of several different outfitters along the coast.

Scallops are usually found in 2 to 6 feet of water, and the ideal time to catch them is during a slack tide, when the grass blades are standing upright. Their shells have distinctive blue or purple “eyes” along the ridges and tiny hairs at the opening. And it’s important to note you have to actually catch the scallops, it’s definitely not like harvesting other shellfish such as clams or oysters. They’re tough to spot, but you can catch bay scallops either by hand or using a net.

The little mollusks are quick, however. They have powerful adductor muscles, which also make them such delicious eating, but they can pinch hard and it’s no treat if you have a finger nearby. And these bivalves are likely to try and flee if you’re looking to bag them. Be warned—they will try to escape by squeezing their shells together, shooting out a jet of water to quickly propel them across the bay’s floor.

The beauty of scalloping while snorkeling is that there’s so much else to see other than what you hope to put on a plate later in the day. There’s a host of other sea life to experience just below the water’s surface, such as seahorses, rays, starfish, sea urchins, and spider and horseshoe crabs.

An immensely successful scalloping trip means catching the limit, which is up to two gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell, or one pint of scallop meat, each day during the open season. Recreational scallopers can’t possess more than 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or a half gallon of meat aboard any boat, and the scallops cannot be sold for commercial purposes.

But you don’t want to sell these delicious morsels, you want to take them home and cook them. First, you’ll want to shell them with a small paring knife, and then clean all the debris and side muscle away from the prize, which is the round white muscle. Once those muscles are all that’s left, heat some butter, garlic and lemon juice in a skillet and sauté them for a few minutes on each side. Or you can toss them with seasoning and Panko breadcrumbs for a savory baked dish to be served over crusty bread.

Either way, you’ll feel like a world-class diver and chef, all for having a day’s fun with your family!

It’s National Lighthouse Day!

Did you know that there is a National Lighthouse Day? It’s celebrated on August 7th each year, and is rooted in a 1789 Act of Congress. Although the St. George Island Lighthouse isn’t quite that old, it’s still a part of this important past.

St. George Island, Cape St. George Light

St. George Island, Cape St. George Light

On August 7, 1789, Congress passed an Act that provided for the establishment and support of lighthouses, beacons, buoys, and public piers. These help commerce and navigation, but also help improve public enjoyment of the nation’s waterways and coasts.

National Lighthouse Day was officially designated in 1989, recognizing the 200th anniversary of the signing of the 1789 Act and of the first Federal lighthouse being commissioned.

The original 1789 Act read:

An Act for the Establishment and support of Lighthouse, Beacons, Buoys, and Public Piers.

Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

St. George Island, Cape St. George Light

St. George Island, Cape St. George Light

That all expenses which shall accrue from and after the fifteenth day of August one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine, in the necessary support, maintenance and repairs of all lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers erected, placed, or sunk before the passing of this act, at the entrance of, or within any bay, inlet, harbor, or port of the United States, for rendering the navigation thereof easy and safe, shall be defrayed out of the treasury of the United States: Provided nevertheless, That none of the said expenses shall continue to be so defrayed by the United States, after the expiration of one year from the day aforesaid, unless such lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers, shall in the mean time be ceded to and vested in the United States, by the state or states respectively in which the same may be, together with the lands and tenements thereunto belonging, and together with the jurisdiction of the same.

Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That a lighthouse shall be erected near the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay, at such place, when ceded to the United States in manner aforesaid, as the President of the United States shall direct.

Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the Secretary of the Treasury to provide by contracts, which shall be approved by the President of the United States, for building a lighthouse near the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay, and for rebuilding when necessary, and keeping in good repair, the lighthouses, beacons, buoys, and public piers in the several States, and for furnishing the same with all necessary supplies; and also to agree for the salaries, wages, or hire of the person or persons appointed by the President, for the superintendence and care of the same.

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That all pilots in the bays, inlets, rivers, harbors and ports of the United States, shall continue to be regulated in conformity with the existing laws of the States respectively wherein such pilots may be, or with such laws as the States may respectively hereafter enact for the purpose, until further legislative provision shall be made by Congress.  Approved: August 7, 1789

Origins of National Lighthouse Day:

Although we love and cherish our local lighthouses the Cape St. George Light and the Crooked River Lighthouse, National Lighthouse Day originated much farther north – in Rhode Island, in fact. There, Senator John H. Chafee sponsored a joint resolution in Congress on April 28, 1988, to designate August 7, 1989 as “National Lighthouse Day,” proclaiming that the resolution “Designates August 7, 1989, as National Lighthouse Day and calls for lighthouse grounds, where feasible, to be open to the public.” The resolution passed quickly, emerging from the Senate on July 26, 1988, and coming through Congress (sponsored by Rep. William J. Hughes, New Jersey) on October 21. Two weeks later, on November 5, 1988, President Ronald Reagan applied his “John Hancock,” and the Bill became law. The first National Lighthouse Day was observed on the 200th Anniversary of the original act, August 7, 1989.

Carrabelle Lighthouse

Carrabelle Lighthouse, FL

In Recognition of National Lighthouse Day – Hon. William J. Hughes

HON. WILLIAM J. HUGHES
in the House of Representatives
WEDNESDAY, JULY 26, 1989

Mr. HUGHES. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to call attention to a special occasion which communities all across America will be celebrating next week. August 7, 1989, marks the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Lighthouse Act and the commissioning of the first Federal lighthouse in the United States.

In honor of those events, I was proud to sponsor a resolution last year which designated August 7, 1989, as National Lighthouse Day. The celebration next week will provide some long overdue recognition for the important role which lighthouses played in the history of our country, and the values of safety, heroism, and American ingenuity which they represent. At the same time, I am hopeful that it will encourage communities and citizens groups around the country to rededicate themselves to the protection and restoration of these historic structures.

As America continues its technological progress into the 21st century, it becomes easy to forget the wholesomeness and serenity of preindustrial establishments such as lighthouses. The history they provide gives us the opportunity to step back in time and learn more about our country. The contributions they made to our society, from protecting our coasts to guiding our sailors, should continue to be appreciated and remembered.

I am proud to point out that there are three restored lighthouses in my congressional district in southern New Jersey. These three, the Cape May Point lighthouse, the Finns Point lighthouse, and the Hereford Inlet lighthouse, contribute greatly to New Jersey’s beautiful coastline.

The Cape May Point lighthouse, which was first lit on October 31, 1859, was reopened to the public in 1988 after being closed for 50 years. Today, with restoration virtually complete, its light once again shines bright, giving comfort to seamen nearly 19 miles into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Hereford Inlet lighthouse was built in 1874 and is a beautiful example of Victorian architecture. Under restoration since 1982, it continues to provide North Wildwood with a valuable monument to Cape May County’s maritime history.

Last, the Finns Point lighthouse, located in Pennsville, is a 113-year-old marvel. It served as an aid to navigation along the Delaware River from 1877 until 1950, when the river channel was enlarged and deepened.

Unfortunately, not every lighthouse is as lucky as these to have been adopted by a local citizens group or community. Many have fallen into disrepair and desperately need support. For this reason, I have been pleased to join with other Members of Congress in sponsoring legislation to establish the National Bicentennial Lighthouse Fund in order to provide Federal assistance for local lighthouse restoration efforts.

Mr. Speaker, the National Lighthouse Day celebration on August 7, 1989, will indeed be a special event. I hope it further rejuvenates the spirit of these maritime institutions and the impressive restoration efforts which are now taking place in the many communities. It is important that future generations have the opportunity to learn more about and appreciate the unique role which lighthouses played in helping to build our great Nation. I hope that everyone will join me in supporting this effort in the months and years ahead. —

Today…

St. George Island, Cape St. George Light

St. George Island, Cape St. George Light

However, the National Lighthouse Day designation was, it turns out, only official for that one anniversary in 1989. Although lighthouses and lighthouse lovers around the country celebrate annually, Congress has yet to permanently designate August 7th as a recurring date to observe the importance of what the Lighthouse Foundation refers to as “America’s lighthouse heritage.”

In 2013, twenty-four years after the 1989 observation, a Senate Resolution passed that made August 7, 2013 “National Lighthouse and Lighthouse Preservation Day,” but again this was only a single-year designation. As the Lighthouse Foundation notes, “Over the past couple of decades, lighthouse leaders from around the country have worked tirelessly to convince Congress to permanently designate August 7 as National Lighthouse Day on America’s calendar, and though unsuccessful to date, those noble efforts continue. However, even without official recognition from Congress, the nationwide lighthouse community continues to ‘keep the flame of our rich lighthouse heritage burning bright. Each year, August 7 is celebrated as National Lighthouse Day, with lighthouse groups offering the general public a host of fun-learning activities to enjoy – including tours, cruises and presentations that pay special tribute to America’s lighthouses and their grand history.”

Here on St. George Island, we’re lucky to have a magnificent lighthouse to see and love every day of the year, and dedicated folks to protect and preserve it even without official Congressional designation. It’s a beacon for the Island, a piece of Apalachicola Bay history preserved for everyone to enjoy, and easily the best view around. So come on out next time you’re down, stop by the Lighthouse museum, and admire the majesty of the Cape St. George Light.

“This is the power of gathering: it inspires us, delightfully, to be more hopeful, more joyful, more thoughtful. In a word, more alive.” — Alice Waters

The restaurants of St. George Island aren’t just spaces where tasty dishes are served in flavors as varied as the wildlife they’re surrounded by, they are places where strangers become friends. And it’s not just meals we gather over, but songs, bingo cards, and trivia slips.

On the island, you’re not required to entertain yourselves, although that’s certainly your right, and if you want to relax and share fellowship at the same time, there’s fun to be had every night of the week—and most of the time without charge.

If your week — even one spent on vacation — begins on Monday, then Paddy’s Raw Bar (at Gunn Street and East 3rd) is where things get lively. Trivia conducted under the theme “Eat. Drink. Think.” is held on Monday nights around 7 p.m., and live music is offered there most other nights as well, beginning around 6 or 7 p.m.

Tuesdays are a great night for socializing on St. George and in the area. There’s Trivia Night with Coach starting around 7 p.m. at Doc Myers’ (East Pine Avenue and West 1st) or Trivia with Skip at Tamara’s Tapas Bar in Apalachicola, also around 7 p.m.

Harry A’s is the place for karaoke on Tuesdays, around 7 p.m., and about that same time on Wednesdays challenges the island’s sharpest minds — imported or native — with trivia.

Live music is also available most nights of the week, especially Friday through Sunday, and Doc Myers’ offers a late-night DJ party most weekends, going until well after midnight.

Folks who visit St. George Island tell us they don’t want to stay anywhere else. And we want them back every time, too. After all, it’s personal. For many of them, multiple generations of their families have made this their island for a few weeks or months every year, no matter where home is.

But St. George Island is a unique destination for everyone who visits, and we’ve put together a few reasons we think that that is. Here are the top 5 reasons St. George Island is truly one of a kind.

  1. No high-rise condos or massive buildings of any kind. Look up from any point on the island and while you may see our historic lighthouse or water tower, what you won’t see is a towering condominium complex or hotel. There are hundreds of places to stay on the island, but due to the strict, 35-foot height restriction on buildings, they’ll never block a sunrise or sunset. Our goal is to make sure that anything man-made complements and provides respectful access to the amazing scenery available no where else.
  2. Speaking of scenery, you’d be hard pressed to find another place where the Gulf of Mexico and a thriving interior bay are so close together. On St. George Island, you can take a dip in Apalachicola Bay or hop on a charter boat docked there before the powdery beach sand from the Gulf side has even brushed off your feet. The island is just shy of a mile wide at its broadest point and much more narrow elsewhere. It’s an especially cool experience by kayak, canoe or power boat. In Apalachicola Bay you can fish for more than 100 species of fish before rounding the point at St. George Island State Park, where 25 miles of sandy beaches and surf and offshore fishing await.
  3. From beaches to wilderness preserves and all the natural beauty in between, visitors to St. George Island coexist with incredibly diverse and unique wildlife. As a community we do our best to protect the several thousand green, loggerhead and Kemp’s Ridley turtles that hatch on the island during the summer months. But it’s not just the turtles who infuse our vacations with beautiful new life, there are also dolphins, more than 300 species of birds, as well as countless amphibians and reptiles who either stop by seasonally or call St. George Island home year-round. We love them all and have an amazing time appreciating their beauty. And with our “leave no trace” policy across the island, we all have a hand in making sure these special creatures are protected.
  4. On St. George Island, our domesticated animals are just as important to us as those living in the wild, and here there’s incredible access for pets, especially for our canine friends. The island is exceptionally pet-friendly, with dogs allowed on both beach and bayside on most of the island as long as they are on a leash. And in the business district, you’ll find many different shops and restaurants who not only allow them to join you, but offer a treat or two as a welcome.
  5. George Island State Park is a fantastic resource for everyone who visits the island. A beautiful public reserve spread over 2,000 acres, the park has nine miles of undeveloped shoreline, majestic dunes, a bay forest, and salt marshes. Here, you’ll also discover campgrounds, boat launches, and several miles of pristine sugar-sand beaches.