While the dune lakes are prevalent in the artwork that fills galleries along 30A, they can often be overlooked en route to the beach.
"They're a visual hallmark of the area, yet there are people who live right next door to them who don't know how unique they are not just to the state, but to the entire world," said Sarah Schindele, program coordinator at Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance.
To introduce visitors and locals alike to the wonders of South Walton's natural habitat, the CBA is hosting "Discover the Roads Less Traveled," a series of eco-adventures.
"It's a behind the scenes look at the local natural habitat," said CBA Director, Alison McDowell.
The CBA already hosts outreach programs to educate the public on how to be good stewards of their environment. However, from surf fishing to a sunset hike to kayaking, the upcoming tours provide a unique perspective of South Walton's rich outdoors.
"We have a really unique ecosystem, with a beach right next to a forest, full of diverse wildlife," McDowell explained.
The tours are made possible by partnerships with the Walton County Tourist Development Council and local nature experts, who will be leading the adventures. One of those local experts is Schindele.
Schindele, along with Brooke Saari, from The University of Florida IFAS Extension, will be hosting The Jewels of 30A- Coastal Dune Lakes Tour in April and June.
"Brooke and I have done similar tours in the past, which were quite popular so it was a natural fit to offer them," said Schindele.
The Coastal Dune Lakes tour will start at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park to visit Campbell Lake, the least developed of the dune lakes, followed by Western Lake and Oyster Lake.
"We'll discuss the ecology of the lakes and compare the land use," Schindele said. "The dune lakes are the only place in the world that we know of where lakes exchange water with a larger body of water [Gulf of Mexico]. You can go fresh and saltwater fishing in the same area."
There's also a lot of historical trivia to learn on the trips. The Coffeen Nature Preserve, where Susan Paladini of the Coastal Dune Lakes Advisory Board will lead tours, hosted World War II missile testing. In the two-story Wesley House at Eden State Gardens State Park is the second-largest known collection of Louis XVI furniture in the United States. Karl Renelt, of Into the Wild Eco Diversions, will host a Paddle Excursion beginning at Eden Gardens April 14.
With a dozen tours from now until May, McDowell said she hopes visitors get a deeper sense of the land they're visiting.
"Whether they hike through the forest or paddle in the bay, I hope they take away the sense of how the natural resources are connected," she said. "The beach doesn't stand alone."
WANT TO GO? To view a full list of tours, visit www.basinalliance.org. Be on the lookout for more tours in the summer.