From the Editor

Taking the Outdoors in Can Help Us Find Our Way

By Lori Hutzler Eckert, Editor

My skin seems to burn during the 30 seconds it takes to get from my front door to my car. Sand drives me crazy, with its unbelievable clinging properties and gritty feel. And I haven’t purchased a bathing suit since Sports Illustrated betrayed me with its first swimwear issue and showing your bellybutton, much less piercing it, was going out on a limb.

All that said, I have had a lifelong love affair with the beach. The irony is not lost on me, as I readily admit I am not an outdoor-type person; I am more of a central-heat-and-air-type person. But to me, the beach is the pinnacle of nature’s beauty and a part of my world since I was born.

I grew up with the shores of the Gulf of Mexico in my backyard. As a child, I made sandcastles in the surf during the summer, ran down the piers and docks chasing the curmudgeonly seagulls in the spring, and huddled by crackling bonfires that illuminated the mysterious waters of the nighttime ocean during the fall and winter.

The beach played a constant role in my life; however, I admit that I took it for granted until I went to college in a landlocked town. I spent four years driving in circles because, up until that point, south was where the gulf was, and I could figure out the rest from there. I quickly realized I needed to live by the water once again, if for only a sense of direction. (My parents paid a lot of tuition money for that little revelation.)

But as an adult, the beach gives me a different kind of direction. It anchors me in a way no other place does. It reminds me that my horizons are endless, the beauty in life is mine for the taking – if I am ready and willing to be present in the moment – and there is something bigger and greater in this universe than me and my fleeting issues of the day.

After sunset, when my husband, Richard, and I walk our dogs, Stella and Foster, I can hear the low roar of the surf and feel and smell the salt-infused mist on my face, sensory reminders that the beach is still there, even though it can’t be seen in the darkness. Those moments provide me not only with a source of comfort but also an appreciation for the Emerald Coast and its unparalleled natural beauty.

A fundamental fact of the area’s evolution is that it was built on nature. The major trusses in the structure of our economy, infrastructure development, real estate and our thriving tourism industry are undeniably connected to the natural resources that were here long before the founding settlers staked a claim to the land.

We have built a life around these gifts, which provide us – and our all-important visitors – with the opportunity to experience the best of nature. And for this reason, we at Emerald Coast Magazine tip our wide-brimmed sunhats to the great outdoors with this special themed issue.

Many of the articles in this magazine celebrate the people, places and things that make our area unique. Within the mix of stories, writer Christy Kearney shares her conversation with park services specialist Patrick Hartsfield about maintaining and preserving Grayton Beach State Park; writer Chuck Beard covers the rare and beautiful dune lakes that dot our coastline in Walton County; and Faith Eidse writes about the preservation efforts of the nearby Sand Hill Lakes Mitigation Bank.

As winter slips away and spring warms the air and vibrant blue-green waters, now is the perfect time to bring our natural resources to center stage. It also is a time to remember that nature’s beauty, although abundant, isn’t always renewable, and we must respect and protect it as best we can.

That message is critically important, because as you turn the pages of this issue, you will see that the beaches, lakes, bayous and undeveloped land have given the growing and changing Emerald Coast something of great value: a clear and meaningful sense of direction.