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.
In 1928, the property was sold as a private residence, and additional buildings were constructed.
The main home, now referred to as the Lodge,
which over looks Phillips Inlet – the connection between Lake Powell and the Gulf of Mexico,
several cottages that were used for rental income,
the Caretaker’s Cottage,
and a stable.
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.
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 --
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.
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.
These events have been very popular, with 140 – 160 people attending each week. Everyone seems to have a lot of fun.
and Lake Powell, a large coastal dune lake.
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.
One of the nature trails in the park is a paved walkway/raised boardwalk along Lake Powell,
with lots of options for bird-watching and fishing.
It’s a lovely area for an evening walk.
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,
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.
While we’ve been here, we’ve helped with the movie nights, I spend time in the Visitor Center,
greeting visitors and handing out maps.
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!
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.
One of the most photographed features of Camp Helen is the old 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.
Last week when I felt like spending some time at the beach, I had Bryce drop me off with the gator.
From Camp Helen’s beach you can walk right along the sand bar into 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!