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Walton County, Florida, is host to a number of natural attractions that make it a sought-after location for making a home or seeking a long-term vacation rental or summer property. Draper Lake, situated in Freeport in the western end of Florida's panhandle and hugging the Gulf coastline, is a small lake of very irregular shape that merges with a powdery-white beach on the Gulf of Mexico. A private, gated community borders Draper Lake on its west shore, and the total number of private homes that surrounds the lake numbers no more than 20. The lake, which fills on the north end and drains from the south end directly into the Gulf of Mexico, is a coastal dune lake, which is a very rare kind of naturally occurring body of water and associated ecosystem. At an elevation of only 3 feet, it is no wonder that Draper Lake sometimes becomes one with the Gulf of Mexico.
Coastal dune lakes are unusually shallow, with most averaging about 5 to 6 feet in depth, although these depths change significantly with rainfall amounts as well as due to occasionally draining into the coastal waters. Draper Lake is one of only 15 coastal dune lakes in the South Walton Beach area. Because it is a coastal dune lake, Draper Lake is neither purely freshwater nor saltwater. Its waters drain from the freshwater bodies to its north, where it fills the shallow lake basin, and therefore it starts out as a freshwater body. But a delicate natural balance keeps dune lakes in stasis. Occasionally, the dune that holds the lake's waters in place gives way, and the great amount of pressure that the basin waters contain forces the lake to drain rapidly into the ocean. At that point, the lake bed will be nearly empty for a bit, and then the ocean's saltwater will begin to pour back into the lake bed, changing the lake's constitution from mostly freshwater to saltwater, and filling until the pressure evens out and stasis returns. This allows a very unusual kind of fresh- and saltwater habitat and ecosystem to develop in the area--one that supports a unique biodiversity found in only a few locations around the world. Therefore, most known coastal dune lakes have achieved protected status, and development near them is prohibited or strictly limited.
In 2008 Draper Lake experienced one of its unpredictable purges into the ocean. Children may have caused this particular event, however, as it was noted that their play prior to the release of water included using shovels and buckets to disturb the dune that contains the lake's water. Two children in the path of the rushing water had to be rescued after they were carried into the Gulf of Mexico during the water's rapid exit.
Although there are housing developments around Draper Lake, rules are in place to maintain as natural and healthy a habitat as possible. Full oak and pine forests surround some parts of the lake. Wildflowers are abundant, and shorebirds are a common sight in the area. Herons, sandpipers, gulls, egrets and cormorants are all common to the area. Reed grasses surround Draper Lake on its shoreline, and lily pads often fill the still waters there. Residents are partial to unobtrusive outdoor activities, such as bird watching, swimming, searching for seashells on the beach, and relaxing beachside with a book or getting some sun. The beach at Draper Lake is on the south end, connected to the Gulf of Mexico; the Gulf waters are clear and vibrant, calling for visitors to enter them and enjoy.
Those who live in the immediate area are delighted by the unique dune lake and the park-like settings that make the area feel like a nature preserve. Nature trails are abundant, as are well-maintained path markers and short walls built of river stone and wood. Natural materials used in building accent Draper Lake's overall organic beauty. There are docks on the lake and two boathouses, but activity is limited to maintain the serene setting.
Draper Lake is minutes from scenic highway 30-A, which provides access to incredible views of lakes and the Gulf of Mexico and all the beaches in the vicinity of South Walton. Blue Mountain is nearby, as is Topsail Hill State Park. On the western part of 30-A, travelers often stop for a rest and a photo of the covered bridge on this road. It's the only covered bridge on 30-A and was built not far from Draper Lake. Two other popular vacationing areas in this region are Destin and Grayton Beach, which thrive on tourism and vacation rentals, as well as retirement homes and real estate property and development.
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