There was a flurry of activity in the packed parking lots of Faith Assembly in Miramar Beach Monday morning as folks came and went, braving the below freezing temperatures.
The tags on the cars mostly were not from around here, though. Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, and Pennsylvania were just some of the places represented.
Instead of attending a church service, all these out-of-towners were there to sign up for the season's Walton County Snowbird activities.
Yes, they have all come South to escape the wind and cold up north only to be met with temperatures in the 20s.
"It's colder here than at my home in Pennsylvania," one woman bemoaned as she approached the door.
Nevertheless, most of them have been coming here for the winter for several years and they know these temperatures don't last. They were eager to sign up for activities such as golf, tennis, cards, biking, fishing, arts and crafts, exercise, book discussion, bowling, dancing, Pilates, singing, and luncheons. There is also a special group for singles to get together.
Inside, Michael Whitton manned one of the many sign-up tables. Whitton is from Ontario and has been coming here for 11 years. He was lured here by his brother –in-law. He visited, enjoyed, and began making the annual trip.
Whitton stays at Surfside in Miramar Beach every year and originally joined both the Destin and Walton Snowbird clubs. Now, he and his wife only belong to the Walton group.
"I golf or do nothing while here. I think of this as my winter home for 10 weeks," he said.
The Whittons usually eat out once a week with Carrabba's being their favorite.
Bill Neidel is from Rochester, N.Y., and this is his seventh year wintering here. He learned of our area from friends in Rochester who wintered here and came down to visit eight years ago. He and his wife spend two and a half months here before heading back in mid-March. They left behind four grandchildren, who they miss, but they occasionally come to visit.
Besides escaping the snow, the main Panhandle plus for Neidel is hitting the links.
"I'm a big golfer. That's my main activity," he said.
His wife paints, plays golf, and exercises while here, and they eat out a lot, with their favorite being Mitchell's at Grand Boulevard.
The first years they were here, the Neidels also joined both the Walton and Destin Snowbird clubs. Although they are staying at Pelican Beach Resort, which is in Destin, they have settled on the South Walton club because that's where their friends are.
"We do a lot in Destin, but the club affiliation is for the people," he said.
At the end of the day around 1,200 winter visitors had signed up at Faith Assembly, and in the neighborhood of 1,800 are expected said Neidel, with most members coming primarily from the upper mid west and Canada. Neidel serves as the club's information officer.
"That is on track with last year," he said.