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Geologic guide to the state parks of the Florida Panhandle Coast...
Leaflet No. 13
St. George Island State Park ..............
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park ..........
St. Andrews State Recreation Area ........
Grayton Beach State Recreation Area .......
On the front cover: St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. View of
the scarp cut in the foredune ridge by Hurricane Eloise in
1975. Overlook is opposite main picnic and concession area.
Bureau of Geology
Division of Resource Management
Florida Department of Natural Resources
A GEOLOGIC GUIDE TO THE STATE PARKS
OF THE FLORIDA PANHANDLE COAST
ST. GEORGE ISLAND, ST. JOSEPH PENINSULA,
ST. ANDREWS AND GRAYTON BEACH PARKS
AND RECREATION AREAS
by Kenneth M. Campbell
St. George Island, St. Joseph Peninsula, St. Andrews and
Grayton Beach State Parks and Recreation Areas are part of
the barrier island chain which extends, with some breaks, from
Alligator Point, Florida, westward past the Florida-Alabama
state line. Barrier islands, along with associated spits and
lagoons, are common coastal features, not only in Florida, but
also along much of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines
of the United States.
SANTA ROM 0OKALO0,
ST. JOSEPH PENIN
Figure 1. General location
JCow do barrier islands form? Barrier islands
originate in a variety of ways, two of which are most likely for
the barrier islands in the Florida panhandle. In the first type,
wave activity sweeps sand shoreward as a rising sea level
transgresses across the land in response to climatic or
geologic conditions. When the sea level stabilizes, the sand
remains as a barrier island. This is probably the way St.
George Island was formed. In the second type, submerged
shoals may build above sea level and become stabilized. The
Cape San Bias area may have formed in this way.
Barrier islands now present along the Gulf Coast were
formed during the. last 4000 to 5000 years, since sea level
became reasonably stable. The barrier islands seen today
represent the latest adjustment to changing conditions
during this period of time. Barrier islands change size, shape
and position in response to both short-term and long-term
conditions. Barrier islands can be "welded" together, split
into segments, become attached to the mainland as spits or
peninsulas, migrate ashore and be "welded" to the mainland
or even disappear completely. The method of formation and
the original location may be obscured.
Barrier islands require an abundant sand supply. Since
present sea level has stabilized there has been very little new
sand being added to the barrier islands in this area. The result
is that portions of these barrier islands are being eroded. Most
of the sand lost to erosion is being redeposited as spits at the
ends of the barrier islands, in the lagoons or offshore.
The barrier island system encompasses a wide variety of
energy conditions. The Gulf side is exposed to the most
intense wave activity, which results in clean sandy beaches.
Dunes are formed landward of the beaches, and old wave-
formed beach ridges may be preserved in the interior of the
island. The landward side of the island faces a relatively
protected sound (body of water between the island and the
mainland) and is generally fringed by tidal salt marshes or
shallow grass flats.
Jhe dunes found behind the beach are the first
line of defense against severe wave activity and high water
levels. The dunes are physical barriers and provide a large
& j_ __' ; -^ .. ... .^ ^ -^ : W s
St Joseph Peninsula. View of a large vegetation-stabilized dune. Wave
erosion has exhumed old, buried tree roots on the dune face. Note the
high-tide, wave-cut scarp in the foreground.
supply of sand which can be eroded, dissipating wave energy
in the process. The eroded sand is, in some cases, returned to
the beach during periods of normal weather and wave
The dune ridge may eventually become stabilized by
vegetation, such as sea oats. This is important as it decreases
the mobility of both the dune and its individual sand grains. It
is for this reason that vehicle and foot traffic are so destructive
to dunes. The vegetation is disrupted by the traffic, and the
sand in that particular area becomes more susceptible to
erosion by the wind. The concentrated erosion lowers the
dune elevation and leaves a breach in the dune ridge through
which storm waters gain access to the area behind the dune
ridge. Driving on the dunes is prohibited, and walkways have
been constructed in order to protect and preserve the dune
system as much as possible.
Unstabilized dunes may migrate, as individual sand grains
are transported by the wind. Migrating dunes may become
stabilized when they encroach upon a vegetated area;
however, they may cover large amounts of vegetation before
being stablized. In severe cases, the vegetation may only slow
the rate of migration.
each ridges are linear sand ridges which were
deposited along the beach face in areas with a gentle offshore
slope, low wave energy and an abundant sand supply. Beach
ridges form only on accreting (growing seaward) beaches.
Because they form on the beach face, they indicate the
location and orientation of the coastline at the time they were
The ridges are constructed, layer by layer, over an
extended period of time, by sediment deposited by swash
St. Joseph Peninsula. View from the top of a low beach
ridge, across adjacent ridges in the set. Straight lines
indicate the crests of three ridges.
(run-up) on the beach face. Several beach ridges
constructed adjacent to one another, separated by a gentle
intervening swale (linear depression) comprise a beach ridge
set. The swale has an elevation near the mean low water level
at the time the ridge was formed. The height of most beach
ridges in the Florida panhandle is only a few feet; however,
some are as high as 15 feet.
Conditions along Florida's coasts are not conducive to the
formation of beach ridges at this time. This is evident from the
widespread beach erosion observed today.
Jhe sound behind a barrier island is subject to
tidal fluctuations but is a relatively protected water body. The
salinity of the water depends on the amount of fresh water
introduced by rivers, the amount of mixing and the amount of
water exchanged by tidal activity.
The protected waters of the sound behave as a holding
basin for fine-grained sediments introduced by river waters
or by rainfall runoff from the land. Large quantities of these
organic-rich materials may settle to the sound bottom and
provide organic matter and nutrients for high biologic
productivity. Tidal salt marshes or shallow grass flats
generally border the sound side of a barrier island. In
addition, the sound side often has a highly irregular outline.
For these reasons the waters of the sound are extremely
important as breeding and nursery areas for many marine
organisms. Also, their high productivity makes them
important to the weafood industry with oysters, scallops,
shrimp and fish all being harvested there.
ST. GEORGE ISLAND STATE PARK
et. George Island State Park is located on the
eastern end of St. George Island in Franklin County and
consists of essentially undeveloped beaches and dunes. St.
George Island was formed primarily by three geologic
processes: beach ridge development, dune and dune flat
formation and washover formation. The bulk of the island
consists of low coastal dunes backed by a dune flat complex
composed of small hummocky dunes. The dune/dune flat
complex has been disrupted in many areas by washover
GOOSE ISLAND ST. EORGE SOUND
0 .5 1 MILE
\ \ ^^>^ t
PARK ENTRANCE STATION
Ltp 0' Ic.
WEST BEACH USE AREA
St. George Island State Park. West end.
0, .5 '
0 .5 1 KM
SUGAR HILL MARSH ISLAND
ST. GEORGE SOUND
EAST BEACH USE AREA
GULF OF MEXICO
Figure 4 B.
St. George Island State Park. East end.
deposits which occur when waves breach the dunes and
overtop the island.
Gap Island, located within the park, is the oldest part of St.
George Island and has two sets of low, broad beach ridges
developed on it. The seaward set of Gap Island beach ridges
is currently being covered by the Sugar Hill migrating dunes.
The area offshore of Gap Point at the western end of Gap
Island (at East Cove) was probably an inlet at one time.
The highest elevation within the park is at Sugar Hill, near
the East Beach Use Area where the elevation is slightly more
that 30 feet. Sugar Hill is a migrating dune which is encroach-
ing on mature pines growing on the seaward set of Gap Island
beach ridges. The park service has built a walkway to a view-
ing platform at the top of the hill. Snow fencing has been uti-
lized to control the migrating sand in the vicinity of the walk-
way as well as elsewhere within the park.
Natural alteration of the island during historical times has
primarily been by erosion from the central part and spit-type
extension of the ends of the island as the sediment is
redeposited. A 1.5-mile long set of beach ridges at the
easternmost end of the island (within the park) has been
developing since 1858 as a result of this deposition.
The park has been included in the Apalachicola Bay River
and Estuarine Sanctuary. This sanctuary is the largest of 12
national sanctuaries in existence and encompasses more
than 190,000 acres. The purpose of the Sancturay is three-fold:
To provide for the preservation and management of critical
habitat areas; to foster scientific research; and to enhance
ST. JOSEPH PENINSULA STATE PARK
-he St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is located
on the northern half of St. Joseph Spit in Gulf County, Florida.
The barrier islands which would later comprise St. Joseph
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. View along a flooded beach
Spit were formed approximately 5000 years ago.
Approximately 1000 years ago, the two islands were joined at
Eagle Harbor and to the mainland, forming Cape San Bias
and St. Joseph Spit.
The sediment-transport processes which formed the cape
and the spit are still at work today. The area is constantly
being modified by erosion and sediment deposition.
Comparison of bathymetric surveys indicates that the shore-
line at Cape San Bias eroded slightly less than one-half mile
between 1875 and 1942 an average rate of approximately
36 feet per year. Much of St. Joseph Spit is also eroding but
at a progressively slower rate, going northward.
St Joseph Peninsula State Park. Southern part.
FOREDUNE RIDGE -
RIDGE AND BLOWOUTS
St. Joseph Peninsula
State Park. Northern part.
Much of the eroded material is transported northward and is
redeposited at the northern tip of the spit. Further northward
growth of the peninsula has been halted by the continually
mantatined ship channel to Port St. Joe.
Many interesting sights await the person willing to hike
northward toward the tip of the peninsula. Vehicles are not
permitted north of the campgrounds, so the only access to
most of the park is by foot or by boat.
St Joseph Peninsula State Park. Trees which were covered
by this migrating dune and have now been exhumed.
A well-developed foredune ridge is present in the vicinity of
Eagle Harbor and the campgrounds. This dune ridge was
severely eroded by storm waves generated by Hurricane
Eloise in 1975 (see cover photo). The dune ridge was
breached by this storm in several places. These breaches
allow a large area behind the dune ridge to be flooded and
scoured by storm waters. The shallow basin which storm
waters flooded generally contains large quantities of
driftwood and other debris which was stranded when the
storm waters receded.
Also of note as you walk north along the coast are
spectacular dunes which have become stabilized by
vegetation. Dunes may become stabilized when grasses grow
upon them or may become anchored when they migrate into
an area vegetated by trees or shrubs. If a dune does not
completely cover the vegetation, the trees or shrubs may
survive and continue to grow as they have in this area.
Beach ridges are present in parts of the interior of the
peninsula, behind the dunes. The ridges are separated by
swales which often hold water, resulting in long fingers of
high ground separated by long, narrow ponds, swampy areas
or grassy meadows.
The bay side of the peninsula is generally bordered with a
thin band of coastal salt marsh vegetation, beyond which
extends a shallow underwater grass flat up to one-half mile
wide. These grass flats provide excellent habitat for many
marine species. At the edge of this flat, the water depth
increases rapidly to 18 feet or more. The edge of the grass flat
is in reality the shoreward edge of the sand body on which the
original barrier islands were built.
ST. ANDREWS STATE RECREATION AREA
3St. Andrews State Recreation Area is located on
Shell Island peninsula near Panama City in Bay County. Shell Island
is a barrier island which has migrated ashore at the western end,
004D g FISHING PIER
E-- DECORATE BEACH RIDES OUT
PARK BOUNDARY GATOR LAKE
FRESH WATER MARSH a
ENTRANCE STATION H HOUS
B ATHHO U 8I s
S 32 H
FISHING PIER \-^BEACH USE AREAS
niULP OF MEXICO
Figure 8. St. Andrews State
0 .s 5 1 KM
6- f 4
L--.-. '1.-i~I -~
\ %2., -'n
St. Andrews State Recreation Area. View of spoil materials
from the Land's End Canal cut covering the pre-existing
topography, a broad beach ridge.
thus forming a peninsula. Grand Lagoon and St. Andrews Bay
lie behind the island. In the early 1930's the Land's End Canal
was constructed, cutting off the eastern 5.5 miles of the
peninsula. The park encompasses 1063 acres located on both
sides of the Land's End Canal.
Two sets of beach ridges were developed during the
formation of Shell Island. The older ridges are broad and were
formed from sediment which was probably being transported
St. Andrews State Recreation Area. View north along the west
side of the Land's End Canal. The tree stumps in the water
and the step scarp are signs of active erosion.
westward by longshore drift. The campground and park store
are located among these ridges. These ridges are difficult to
see from the ground because of the wind- blown dunes which
have been developed in the area since the beach ridge
formation. The fresh water marsh on the south side of the
main road lies in a swale adjacent to one of these ridges. The
younger beach ridges which lie directly behind the present
beach are narrow and indicate that the sediment was trans-
ported directly on shore. High coastal dunes are migrating
over both sets of beach ridges.
The presence of the Land's End Canal has altered the area,
and the spoil materials deposited along its banks have buried
the original topography. Under certain conditions, the
- r--;- j,-
original topography and swale deposits of peat (a compact
black deposit of partially decomposed plant material) can be
seen in the eroded scarp along the west side of the canal.
GRAYTON BEACH STATE RECREATION AREA
Orayton Beach is a small (356 acre) Recreation
Area located in Walton Conty. The previously discussed park
areas were all constructed predominantly by beach ridge for-
mation during late Holocene time (the last half of last 10,000
Grayton Beach State Recreation Area.
Grayton Beach State Recreation Area. View of Western Lake,
the pine flatwoods and the partially stabilized dunes at the
east end of the park. The bare areas indicate active
With the exception of the dunes and the modern beach, the
Grayton Beach sediments were deposited earlier. Western
Lake occupies a flooded stream valley which is cut off from
the Gulf by a dune-covered, bay-mouth bar (a sand bar
which extends across the mouth of a bay) which was
deposited during late Holocene time. Thus, the recent history
of Grayton Beach is one of modification, rather than growth
Although Western Lake is cut off from the Gulf on the
surface, there is still an effective hydraulic connection with
the Gulf through the bar. This explains the brackish nature of
. .. -te. 'B .-. *
\L* ''_L : ....S- ^
. It,. r
-r .. ,j
Grayton Beach State Recreation Area. These ripple marks
are an indication that sand is being moved by the
wind. The dark, areas are "heavy minerals" which are
concentrated in swales by the wind, since the lighter
quartz grains are moved more easily.
-.I- ,- -
Sand dunes are in motion at Grayton Beach. Some dunes
are migrating so quickly that vegetation cannot grow on their
surface. Others have been partially stabilized by vegetation
which is growing on them or by the trees and shrubs they have
buried. The nature trail points out several areas where dunes
Jhe coastal parks of Florida we have discussed
provide a peaceful and beautiful setting for recreational
activities of many kinds. We hope that your enjoyment is
enhanced by an increased understanding and awareness of
the vital part the barrier island plays in the coastal
barrier/lagoon environment and in the geologic forces which
have shaped, and are still shaping, these parks.
FLRD GEOLOSk ( IC SUfRiW
[year of publication as printed] Florida Geological Survey [source text]
The Florida Geological Survey holds all rights to the source text of
this electronic resource on behalf of the State of Florida. The
Florida Geological Survey shall be considered the copyright holder
for the text of this publication.
Under the Statutes of the State of Florida (FS 257.05; 257.105, and
377.075), the Florida Geologic Survey (Tallahassee, FL), publisher of
the Florida Geologic Survey, as a division of state government,
makes its documents public (i.e., published) and extends to the
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