Before we moved to Grayton Beach, I had only visited the area for food and shopping. I was completely unfamiliar with the beach and my now favorite thing about Grayton, Western Lake. I had also never heard of a coastal dune lake. Coastal dune lakes are beautiful and rare ecosystems. They are only found in a few places in the world, Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar, Oregon, and Florida. There are 15 coastal dune lakes in the 26 miles of Walton County that stretch along the Gulf of Mexico. Here is a map from the 30A website:
The lake waters are fed by streams, groundwater seepage, rain, and storm surges. The connection to the Gulf is called an outfall and has a natural flood protection system that is beautiful and amazing to watch as it periodically opens and closes. Following heavy rains, like we’ve had lately, the outfall opens itself up and the lake drains into the Gulf. The salty sea water of the Gulf and the semi fresh water of the lake merge to form an ecosystem that is home to both fresh and saltwater species.
The lake water is typically brown in color, like tea or coffee, due to the tannins released from the trees and other decaying vegetation that are in the water. The water isn’t dirty or dangerous. I’ve had multiple visitors ask me if the water is safe for my boys to be playing in! We’ve been playing in it for almost a year now and have been as healthy as ever!
I’ve had a few people from home text or message me about the lake and the beach here at Grayton. We think we have the best of both worlds-the calm and shallow water of the lake and the beautiful waves of the Gulf! It’s really the absolute best place for children and young families!
Another fun thing about Grayton is that locals are able to apply for a beach permit every spring. It works like a lottery system and the permit is active for one year. It’s so awesome that they can drive right up to the water’s edge! No dragging coolers or beach chairs or whiney children….sigh….Fishing charters drive right out to the Gulf, back up, and drop the boats. I love to walk early in the morning and see them dotted across the horizon as they leave for the day.
I decided to write a blog post about this a few days ago, so in between rain storms on Wednesday, I grabbed my camera and the little boys and I walked over to the boardwalk that curves around the lake into the sand at the Gulf. I took several pictures and I’m so excited that I took them yesterday because sometime over night or early this morning, the water pushed through the sand barrier between the Gulf and the Western Lake and the outfall opened up and the lake drained! Those of you who follow me on Instagram have seen where I’ve shared pictures of the pier covered in water over the last week. It’s not covered anymore! Over the next few days, the tannin tinted lake water will continue to flush out into the Gulf and the lake will become crystal clear as the salty sea water washes back in. Sometimes the outline of the lake changes almost daily. There may be a sandbar in the middle one day that’s completely dry and the next day it will be covered with water.
If you’re interested in learning more about coastal dune lakes, you can find several videos to watch from this link:
Or read more here: