Before I moved to Florida, I never considered military bases as ecotourism hot spots. I imaged giant industrial complexes, chock-full of planes, tanks, and other heavy equipment. While that is true of some areas on Eglin Air Force Base, thousands and thousands of acres are also available for paddling, fishing, hunting, hiking, and more.
Over the weekend, my husband and I decided to stretch our legs on the miles of dirt roads open in Santa Rosa County. These roads were too sandy for our vehicle, but perfect for a long, leisurely walk. We crossed beautiful creeks with water so clear we could spot different fish swimming along the bottom, shaded by the bright green foliage characteristic of spring. We followed tracks of coyotes, turkeys, and deer as they crossed the road, and listened to the chirping of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Carolina Chickadees in the branches above. In one large, cleared field we even spotted a live coyote. Though I have lived near coyotes my entire life, this was my first opportunity to really watch one as it gently loped across the swaying grasses.
For the most part, we had the area to ourselves. Prints in the dirt indicated two horse-back riders had recently been through, and we caught sight of one or two Jeeps intent on trail riding, but other than that we felt as if we were alone in the wilderness. For five miles we continued, navigating in a wide loop until we eventually made it back to our car.
I laud Eglin for all its staff do to keep these recreation areas open for us! Their trails are so numerous it would take me months, if not years to explore them all.