Now this is more like it. As I stand on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico here on St. George Island, there is not a high-rise building in sight. In fact, no matter which way I look along this sugar sand beach, I can’t see a single beach chair, sun umbrella, or even another human.
It’s foggy. The sun can be seen only as a dull yellow circle up in the clouds. But the temperature is in the low 70’s and, except for the sound of the angry surf crashing, the beach is as wild and empty as it’s been for eons.
This is the Florida I love.
A local newspaperman and promoter named Chick Spicer came up with the name Forgotten Coastline a quarter-century ago to describe the area from Mexico Beach south and east of Panama in Bay County to St. Marks in Wakulla County, an area that up until recently, escaped the rampant development and tourism boom that characterizes the so-called Emerald Coast west of Panama.
We took U.S. Route 98 down here, more than 150 miles from our start at Destin, the upscale, crowded and touristy condo, shopping, and restaurant mecca where we had spent the past week.
There are condos and beach places all along 98, on the Forgotten Coastline, but not nearly as many as we left. We stopped at two state parks – the St. Joseph’s Peninsula State Park and St. George Island State Park, both tucked away on remote beaches devoid of development.
We would have overnighted at St. Joseph’s had not it been for a recent vegetation burn that left one of the two camping areas scorched and blackened. The smell was still heavy in the air and after a brief exploration of the beach and a boardwalk hike, we left and continued down the coast.
We stopped at the town of Apalachicola, a sleepy fishing town known for its oysters and shrimp. The shrimp boats are tied upon the Apalachicola River and there are museums and raw bars and a great local microbrewery ready to lure in the passing tourists.
But our destination was St. George Island and the state park there, where we spent the night backed up against some 20-foot sand dunes. The park bills itself as the “Best Kept Secret along the Forgotten Coast” and rightly so. It offers nine miles of pristine beaches, four of them along the main drive and five more miles in a special area accessible by foot or a vehicle with a special use permit.
There’s a great 2.5-mile nature trail that meanders from the campground through the pine forests and coastal scrub to the bay. Hikers are advised to stay on the trail as rattlesnakes live here. There are also alligators in a couple of ponds near the campground.
From the campground to the east, a couple hundred yards over the dunes, is the Gulf of Mexico. To the west a similar distance is Apalachicola Bay, a great swimming and kayaking spot. There are 60 sites in the campground and, during our visit in early January, we had no trouble finding a spot. They are flat and have full hookups, though we did not need them with our Roadtrek CS Adventurous XL and its extra battery and solar power.
In terms of history, the island has always been used for fishing. And the numerous stands of slash pine on the island were heavily “turpentined” during the early-1900s. Slashes in some of the larger trees are still visible, where the gum was collected to make turpentine.
Jen and I marveled at the lack of light pollution. With the nearest house more than four miles away, the night sky was breathtaking.
We feel refreshed and restored by the Forgotten Coastline.