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Florida: Apalachicola, Franklin County’s Natural Escape - Fishing, Kayaking, and Beach Time.710FLApalachWaterfront If the goal is a low-maintenance family getaway in a natural setting then environmentally serene and ecologically-rich Franklin County is definitely an option. In addition to beach time, families can enjoy cycling, hiking, golfing, fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, stargazing, and oystering plus mini doses of Florida's history.
Just south of the Alabama/Georgia State line confluence and in the vicinity of Tallahassee you will find plenty of places and activities ideal for both the creative as well as the nature-appreciating family. What is so unique about a region many Florida travelers may not have even heard of?   For starters, 87% of Franklin County is in either state, federally protected parkland or nature preserve.  The rest comprised of thoughtfully preserved communities conspicuously lacking high rises and interspersed with friendly neighborhoods and historically significant attractions.  Stop and think about this – a county, with a permanent resident population of 10,000, has voluntarily preserved 500 acres of premium and pristine forest, wetlands, 200 miles of coastline and beaches forever.  This astounding absence of sprawl is definitely a good thing for families seeking an earth-friendly vacation spot. 710FLApalachMarket

The creative growth controls do not in any way mean the absence of modern amenities such as meticulously planned historic and contemporary beach communities.  This also goes for the cozy county seat of Apalachicola – or “Aplach” as the locals say – where Mayberry meets Old Florida.  A few steps in any Aplach direction will reveal an effective sprinkling of quaint shops, historic buildings, docked boats, inns, unique restaurants and even an outdoor concert among work and pleasure boats - almost as it looked and felt 50 years ago.  An excellent snapshot of this quality, as well as a fun rest stop, is the Old Time Soda Fountain Gift and Shells on Market Street, a modest cross between a soda fountain of old and gift shop specializing in shells and the best ice cream cones.  Nothing captured the town’s spirit better than a sign on the entrance saying “Our restroom is for anyone who needs it – come on in”. 

Pedestrian-friendly Aplach is mindful of both its natural resources heritage and responsibility to encourage commerce by preserving shopping districts and visitor attractions along with 200 historic buildings dating from the 1830s – all the while showcasing the maritime culture and fishing fleets as part of a “working waterfront” and downtown area.  Franklin County considers its seafood industry, the backbone of its culture and heritage, a matter of pride with workboats literally sprinkled among the charters and sailboats rather than relegated to some “other” part of town.

One can easily visualize Forrest Gump puttering back from a successful shrimping expedition to unload his bounty among historic antique shops and outdoor waterfront festivals.  Seafood is not only the paramount industry but is also the must-eat staple of the local eating establishments and most restaurant menus are delightfully unpredictable for no other reason than a community-wide commitment to serve only what is caught locally at that time – which can vary based on the fickle yet productive critter soup of the Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

The crown jewel of the area is the nation’s second largest estuarine preserve - the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR) – where fresh water fisheries mix with salt water making a resource so productive and pristine that numerous government agencies and scientists from all over the world manage and study this area concurrently.  As one might imagine hiking, cycling, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, birding and camping rule here.  The ANERR is a national renowned “biological hotspot” and one of the last ecosystems of its kind comprising 1300 species of plants, 131 species of fish and over 50 species of mammals including black bears and manatees.  Try the ANERR boat tour for a rare glimpse of the tupelo honey wetlands, bald eagles and an excellent view of Aplach’s waterfront when departing and approaching.710FLStGeorgeLighthouse

Other premium natural preserves include Bald Point State Park, Tate’s Hell State Forest, St. George’s Island State Park, Apalachicola National Forest, and St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge.  Try the High Bluff Hiking and Deep Creek Birding Trails at Tate’s Hell for pristine cypress wetlands and birding.  St. Vincent’s provides the most remote habitat and photographic opportunities.  St. George’s is the best for beaching it and biking - as is the whole island.  Bald Point has even more similar opportunities plus the best Black Bear viewing. 

Guided eco tours provide access to hard-to-reach habitats and some environmental education on the sly. Go with the comfortable tour boats or do it yourself with canoes or kayaks.  Try “Book Me a Charter” for an oyster culture tour including oystering lessons and the Wind Catcher and Peregrine for an authentic sailing experience on vintage restored sloops.  My favorite is Journeys of St. George Island providing any manner of eco tour available including its “Bounty of the Bay” tour taking as many as five persons for a three-hour trip. The captain will show children and adults how to cast for mullet, pull in blue crab traps and hog for oysters in the bay.

Do not underestimate the purity of relaxing on the dock of a seafood restaurant at sunset after a dinner of grouper or red snapper. As the day fades to moonlight, denizens of urban areas will not only appreciate the salt air, the sounds of rolling surf and the stirrings of nocturnal nature 
but also the absence of artificial light, noise and any need to plan. It is a low-maintenance family getaway spot.

Make it happen. To zero in on more family vacation options - Franklin County toll-free 1-866-914-2068, (850) 653-8678, or

Dining Suggest
ions My favorite most casual of dining retro 1950s soda fountain eatery with a sprinkling of modern fare and museum quality memorabilia randomly scattered throughout (Carrabelle Junction, 88 Tallahassee St., Carrabelle, FL (850) 697-9550). And Lafayette Park in the center of Apalachicola's historic home district is ideal for a picnic and the waterfront features a perfect rest area with a long fishing pier.

Content and images by Andrew Der. Copyright 2012.
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