FL Panhandle Beachfront Preserved

WALTON COUNTY, 3/7/2003: The Trust for Public Land has conveyed a 2.9-acre beachfront property in Florida’s Panhandle to Walton County. The property will become part of Stallworth Lake Preserve, a popular destination on the beaches of South Walton County. The property will be managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which also funded the project through its Habitat Conservation Program in conjunction with the general revenue of Walton County.

The coastline of this part of the Florida Panhandle is mentioned often in lists of the “world’s most beautiful beaches,” and hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the area’s white-sand shores and emerald-green waters every year. Many of them decide to stay, making South Walton one of the most rapidly developing coasts in the nation.

Acquisition of the Stallworth Lake Preserve site in northwest Florida protects one of the last pristine beachfront properties on this Gulf coast. It also adds protection to the fragile ecosystem surrounding Lake Stallworth, a vital link in the coastal dune lakes system of South Walton County. The lakes are especially vulnerable to storm surge and flooding, so preserving this Gulf frontage will add a buffer to the lake system as well as to Topsail Hill Preserve, a state recreation area.

“Although it is a small tract of land, we must protect these special places that are unique to Florida and the reason people visit our state and provide its economic vitality,” said Greg Chelius, director of TPL’s Florida office.

“We enthusiastically backed the purchase of the Stallworth Preserve property,” said Nancy James, president of the South Walton Community Council, a citizen non-profit organization interested in responsible growth and development in Walton County, “partly because it’s a wonderful piece of property to preserve, and it’s adjacent to the Topsail Preserve which gives more access to the public…and partly because it will no doubt end up being at no cost to the county. As I said to the commissioners, it really is a no-brainer!”

Designated a critical habitat for the endangered Choctawhatchee Beach mouse, the site will become part of the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Stallworth Preserve.

“We couldn’t be happier with the county’s purchase of the Stallworth Lake property,” said Rodger Walk, a homeowner in the area. “Preserving this land is in everyone’s best interest…there are habitats here that exist nowhere else in Florida. There is a tremendous amount of wildlife, the beach mouse, the birds of prey. . . This is a good deal for all Floridians as well as all the tourists who come to our area.”

The property includes 260 feet of beachfront, as well as 220 feet on a coastal dune lake. It is a summer nesting site for endangered green and leatherback sea turtles and threatened loggerhead sea turtles, and a winter feeding and resting place for piping and snowy plovers.

A majority of funding for the project will come from the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Program, with a local match from Walton County.

“We are happy to work with the Trust for Public Land on the Stallworth Lake project,” said Tim Pauls, Walton County Commissioner, District 5. ” Preservation of our beach land, and coastal dune lake outfall areas is important economically, environmentally and aesthetically. When we save these special properties we save our way of life.”