Thursday, July 23, 2015

Camp Helen State Park

Camp Helen

The property known as Camp Helen was first known as the Inlet Beach Hotel in 1910, including cabins (which no longer exist) and a General Store (which was later used as a kitchen, and still stands today.

Old General Store


In 1928, the property was sold as a private residence, and additional buildings were constructed.

The main home, now referred to as the Lodge,

Lodge at Camp Helen


which over looks Phillips Inlet – the connection between Lake Powell and the Gulf of Mexico,

Overlooking the lake and the old dock


Side View of the Lodge

Backyard of the Lodge











several cottages that were used for rental income,

Summer Cottages

Rainbow Cottages












the Caretaker’s Cottage,

Caretaker Cottage

and a stable. 

Horse Barn



Water Tower


A water tower behind the main house provided all the water needed for the facility.










In 1945, the property was purchased by Avondale Textile Mill as a corporate summer camp for their employees and families, and it acquired the name “Camp Helen”. 

The camp saw a lot of use during those years that it was owned by Avondale, and there is a slide show in the Visitor Center of pictures from that era.  Many people who come to visit the park now had also come here as children when their parents or grandparents worked at Avondale.

Avondale added the Recreation Hall, which is still used by the State Park today.     Recreation Hall











In 1996 – at the urging of a group of concerned citizens who later became the “Friends of Camp Helen” organization, the State of Florida bought the property, saving it from development into yet another high-rise hotel.

Now that the property is being preserved by the state, the historic building are being maintained but not open for use or tours.  There is a self-guided walking tour of the buildings, and on the 1st Saturday of every month the Friends Group holds a guided history tour.

The Lodge is available for rent for weddings, or meetings – we had our Volunteer Appreciation Dinner in there last weekend --

Inside the Lodge

as is the Recreation Hall.  There’s a day camp for kids going on in the Rec Hall this week and next, and every other Wednesday in June & July the Friends of Camp Helen host a “Movie & More” session.

Roasting hot dogs and marshmallows

Sponsored by Camping World and other local businesses, the event is free for all attendees, including admission to the park.  The evening starts with a 30-minute program by the Rangers, then the kids and their parents roast hot dogs over campfires and make s’mores, and then a movies is shown in the Rec Hall.


Families enjoying "Movies & More"

"Movies & More" at the Recreation Hall












These events have been very popular, with 140 – 160 people attending each week.  Everyone seems to have a lot of fun.

Within the 184 acres of Camp Helen State Park, there are also many opportunities for recreation.  The park is sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico,     Emerald waters of the Gulf










and Lake Powell, a large coastal dune lake.

Lake Powell

At our Volunteer Appreciation Dinner last weekend, we watched a documentary that had been produced on coastal dune lakes recently.  This area of Florida is the only area in the US that has coastal dune lakes, and only one of a few location in the world.  The only other place that has as many is in Australia.

Coastal Dune Lakes are formed when the shifting sand dunes cut off an area of water from the gulf.  Over time, the water becomes brackish as rain water mixes with the existing salt water, and darkens in color as trees grow up around the shore and introduce organic matter into the water.          Lake Powell Inlet

One of the nature trails in the park is a paved walkway/raised boardwalk along Lake Powell,

Sunset on the Walking Trail


with lots of options for bird-watching and fishing.

Boardwalk along Lake Powell

Fishermen at the bridge












It’s a lovely area for an evening walk.

Pines along the lake


Each coastal dune lake has a natural inlet to the gulf where, in times of high water, the dark, brackish water of the lake flows back into the clear crystal-green water of the gulf.

The inlet here at Lake Powell is Phillips Inlet,

Phillips Inlet

and it’s naturally closed by a sand bar under normal conditions.


This quiet area of water to the south of the Hwy 98 bridge is a favorite nesting area for shorebirds.

Shorebirds in Powell Lake












While we’ve been here, we’ve helped with the movie nights, I spend time in the Visitor Center,    

Animals of Camp Helen

greeting visitors and handing out maps.

Visotor Center

Visitor Center












On these hot July days, the air-conditioned Visitor Center is a popular place for people to come in and cool down after walking on the nature trail, or up from the beach.  It’s also a place for the volunteers to cool off!

Volunteers hard at work


Tom and Bryce have been helping out with a few maintenance projects in the park, including building a handrail for a new section of sidewalk.

Tom, Bryce and Tim working on the railing

Completed railing












One of the most photographed features of Camp Helen is the old pier.

Camp Helen Pier


During the Avondale era, Camp Helen had the longest pier out into the gulf, but it was abandoned later, and has slowly been deteriorating.

There are still a few posts in the water, too.

Remnants of the pier


Last week when I felt like spending some time at the beach, I had Bryce drop me off with the gator.

Bryce drove me down to the beach on the gator


From Camp Helen’s beach you can walk right along the sand bar into Panama City Beach.

Panama City Beach


Camp Helen is a real gem in the Florida panhandle, and we’re glad we had time to spend here exploring it!

Camp Helen Pier

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Seaside, FL and Inlet Beach

The beach at Seaside -- beautiful!

When we first arrived at the beginning of the month, we took a drive down highway 30A along the emerald coast, but didn’t really stop anywhere.  I was completely enchanted by Seaside, FL, so on Saturday we took another drive, and this time we stopped to check it out.

Post Office in Seaside


The town of Seaside is a pretty new development, with cobblestone residential streets on either side of a small town square.

It’s a master-planned community, that was developed to have minimal impact on the environment.  There are no high-rise hotels, only individual vacation rentals and residences . . . and the downtown square, with it’s restaurants and shopping just off the beach is very cute.



Airstream Food Court

Palm Tree Shadows


We got there right after noon, and with the sun high in the sky, these palm trees were casting shadows on the sidewalk that looked like a painting!

There was a small Farmers’ Market going on, so we walked around a bit, and checked out a few shops.

Artists' Shops

There were a few cute shops, and if I had a seaside cottage to decorate, I could have gone crazy in one of them . . . but I didn’t.

They could use a quilt shop in this little town . . . just sayin’

At the far north end of town, we found a secluded “Artists’ Park”, surrounded by what looked like studio apartments, like something you would see in a big city – very cool.

Artist Row

My favorite part of Seaside, though, is the cute little Food Court area – all Airstream trailers.

Organic Juice Bar


Just so cute!

Wild Bill's

There were a lot of food choices – hot dogs, BBQ, Asian, health food – but we weren’t ready to eat yet, so we just got Hawaiian ice.


Hawaiian Ice

OK, it was pricey . . . $6 for a small (I think we pay about $2.50 for the same in Shipshewana!), but it was cool & refreshing on a hot day.

From there, we crossed the street and walked down to the beach.  It’s a short walk, and there’s a covered seating area where people seemed to leave shoes, so we did the same.  We regretted that, though – the sand was extremely HOT even on the short walk down to the water!

The beach was full, with more people sitting under umbrellas than in the sun.     Busy Saturday on the beach










It was a beautiful beach . . . with hardly a speck of anything floating in it.  I told Tom it looked like they installed a filter out in the ocean somewhere to make sure that no seaweed made it to shore!

He makes a good beach bum!

This is definitely the high-rent district, but it’s beautiful!

After our walk on the beach, we continued west on 30A, stopping in at the two other state parks on the beach – Grayton Beach, and Topsail Hill Preserve. 

Grayton Beach

They are both beautiful parks, with nice campgrounds that we could even get our rig into.

Coastal Dune Lake at Grayton Beach

Kite flying at Grayton Beach


We stopped in the Ranger Station at both parks to get information on volunteer opportunities and the contact info of the Volunteer  Coordinator at each park.

They both seem like really nice parks, and we know people who volunteer at both of them and enjoy it, but I think our preference might be Grayton Beach – it’s smaller, and seems less commercialized than Topsail Hill Preserve.




When we left Topsail, we were at the end of 30A, and if we continued west we would end up in the chaos of Destin, so we turned around and made our way back toward Camp Helen.

In the evening, after dinner, Tom and I decided to go catch the sunset at the beach.  We could have just walked to our beach here at Camp Helen, but it was still pretty hot out, so we drove to Inlet Beach instead.  Tom wanted to get the truck out anyway, and it’s right next to the park.

Sunset_July 18th

When we arrived, we weren’t sure we were going to see much of the sunset since there was a big cloud covering it, but we hung around anyway, walking down to the state park boundary and back.

Sunset_July 18th

As we were making our way back, the big cloud was moving, and we gradually saw more of the sunset.


We saw birds flying overhead, and sand castles on the beach,

Sandcastle on the beach

and the set-up for a sunset wedding.

Lights set up for a sunset wedding

By the time we walked to Camp Helen and back, the wedding had started,

Wedding on the beach

Wedding on the beach











and the sky was getting prettier. 

We talked with a resident of Inlet Beach as we all enjoyed the sunset.

Sunset_July 18th

Sunset_July 18th


Beautiful end to another beautiful day!