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Summer Fun with Friends of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

June 6, 2017 by Manny Chavez

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park could possibly be the best kept secret on Scenic 30A.

Tucked quietly away near the far western edge of our beach highway, the 1,643-acre park is kept in pristine condition by a volunteer group, the Friends of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. The group supports the park in every way imaginable and are led by president Worth Green and vice-president, Faith Whalen.

“Our mission is to promote community involvement and enhance visitor services here at the park," says Faith. "We support the park’s educational and conservational efforts through volunteering, fund-raising, and operating the park store.”

The daily park store management is in the process of transitioning from state park management to Friends management. Through the efforts of Friends, the store is now equipped with Wi-Fi hot spot connectivity so that the campers can now connect online.

Two paid employees and several volunteers keep the store running and are happy to provide rentals in the form of bicycles, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards. Beach wheelchairs are also available if needed.

Pretty much every aspect of the park is enhanced through the efforts of these volunteers. The Friends of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park are dedicated to making sure the park is all that it can be. On a recent visit, Friends volunteer Margo Yourick was busy watering the colorful plants that adorn the butterfly garden. She is also the committee chairperson in charge of the group’s Dirty Friday program which meets every first Friday of the month to keep up with the beautification of the park.

Many programs, most of them free of charge, are provided by Friends to the public, including Reading with a Ranger, a first-Thursday- of- the- month offering held at 10 a.m. at the Walton County Coastal Branch Library (437 Greenway Trail). These fun story time readings, conducted by a Park Ranger, are a great way for children to learn about nature.

Weekly outdoor Ranger programs are provided year-round on Thursdays at 3 p.m. Attendees meet at the park and the Rangers discuss a variety of outdoorsy Topsail-related topics such as the endangered “Choctawhatchee Beach Mouse”, “Shore Fishing”, “Track & Scat ID Walk”, “Bees”, “Alligators”, and “Prescribed Fire.” Call ahead (850-267-8330) to confirm program dates and times.

The Friends of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park put on their “Breakfast with a Ranger Program” on the 2nd Saturday of the Month. Folks can appreciate a delicious breakfast at The Topsail Park Clubhouse and are encouraged to ask the Ranger any questions relating to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. During a recent breakfast, Park Ranger Chris Roberts fielded questions ranging anywhere from where to find sand dollars to black bear concerns.

The breakfast gets underway at 9 a.m. with a $5 adult donation or $3 children’s donation. Park admission ($4 vehicle w/1 person, $6/vehicle w/2-8 people, or $2/bicycle or hiker) isn’t included in the donation. Thanks to a reimbursement program administered by Visit South Walton, regular day-use fees will be waived from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

The Friends group, in partnership with Topsail Preserve State Park, also participate in the annual International Coastal Cleanup Day and have hosted Topsail Hill Preserve State Park’s Earth Day Festival right here at Topsail.

This past March, the volunteers partnered with Topsail Hill Preserve State Park to have an awesome Moonlight Paddle on Campbell Lake.

“Campbell Lake is one of the few local Coastal Dune Lakes that has NO development on it…so paddlers are accessing a completely self-contained eco system,” explains Faith. “On our night paddle, it’s just the moon and you.”

Nothing like a full moon to get the blood pumping while paddling on Campbell…participants enjoyed the 90-minute, Ranger-guided paddle and finished off the night with hot chocolate for all. The event will return in November. Space is limited, so keep your eyes open for updates. A new “Sunrise Paddle” adventure will start up soon with paddles scheduled to begin the 4th Friday of June and continue through October.

Not enough can be said about the Friends group…Topsail is lucky to have such an interested and dedicated group working for the betterment and continuance of our local natural resources. There are several plans in the works for activities and programs that will take place this summer. Volunteers are always needed and welcomed.

The temporary free day-use agreement offers a great opportunity to park your car (parking lot is HUGE), load up on  the free  tram, and enjoy all that Topsail Hill Preserve State Park has to offer and to see for yourself how the Friends group efforts have made this THE place to visit. For more information, please visit their web site: www.topsailparkfriends.org , Email: friendsofthsp@gmail.com , Phone:850-267-8330 (800-326-3521 for camping & cabin reservations), or visit on Facebook. Topsail Preserve State Park is located at 7525 W. Scenic Hwy. 30A, just west of Butler Elementary.

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Manny Chavez's picture

Manny Chavez

Manny has been a working photojournalist his entire career and is now writing stories/taking pix for SoWal.com. He and his wife Kris live in Seagrove and have “seen a lot come and go.” Lots of stories have been told, with lots more to come!

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