What Hurricane Michael Left Behind – The Forgotten Coast, FL
We continued our travels along Florida’s gulf coast, heading northwest through what’s known as the “Forgotten Coast”. Driving along a quiet and relatively undeveloped section of coastline between St. Marks and Mexico Beach, we paused at the small towns of Eastpoint, Apalachicola (to hang out with friends), Port St. Joe, St. George Island, Cape San Blas and Mexico Beach (ground zero for hurricane Michael).
We were able to schedule our time here to coincide with Eric and Laurel’s annual family visit. The RV resort we chose in Eastpoint was only a few miles from where their parents live, making our get-togethers convenient. We even had our initial meal at the same restaurant where we first met five years ago. Since then we’ve reconnected several times as our paths have crossed, forging a great friendship. We always look forward to seeing these great folks!
The port city of Apalachicola is a warm, welcoming place bursting with hometown charm. We strolled all around the historic downtown area, even seeing the house where Laurel’s dad was born – now that’s some cool local history! We also took a guided tour at the Orman House Historic State Park, where we learned about two hundred years of Apalachicola history and southern traditions. We really liked this town the first time we were here, and we liked it even better this time!
We also visited the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, which showcased the importance of the estuary as a major forage area for trans-gulf migratory bird species, while also supporting the local fishing industry. We learned that nearly 90% of Florida’s oyster harvest comes from Apalachicola Bay. No wonder the town is known as Florida’s “Oyster Capital of the World.” And yeah, we ate a ton of the best oysters you can find anywhere, prepared in many different ways – yum!
We cut short our stay at Coastline RV Park because the site was located adjacent to horrific traffic noise on highway 98. Although unhappy with the campground, the time we spent with Eric and Laurel made it well worth the stay.
Forty miles north along the coastline we were lucky to snag a site at Presnell’s RV Park at Port St. Joe. The RV park had partially re-opened during its recovery from hurricane Michael. Our amazing (and quiet) gulf-side site with premium bird watching more than made up for the money we lost by leaving the other park early.
Our move brought us to a halfway point rendezvous with party buddies Dave and Faye , who were staying at Topsail Hill Preserve SP. We had planned this get-together several months ago, as Dave had frozen and saved several fish heads for me to make soup as he fished on the gulf coast of Texas (how cool is this guy?). In exchange we gave them some lumpia and stout beer to try. It turned out to be an excellent trade, as the soup made Steve’s eyes roll back in his head!
And then there was Michael
Driving around Eastpoint and Apalachicola, we’d already begun to see some damage from hurricane Michael. But as we drove through Mexico Beach to meet up with Dave and Faye we were totally shocked by what we saw between Port St. Joe and the little town of Mexico Beach, where the eye of the hurricane struck last October. Even five months later the destruction remains almost complete, and as we drove back home at dusk it was eerie to see the town dark and deserted. A very heartbreaking sight that we will not forget.
Five months after the horrible hurricane, signs of recovery and rebuilding are only beginning along the Forgotten Coast. Although a few small businesses and restaurants have reopened, this is a place that will not return to anything close to normalcy for a long time to come.
We did our best to patronize the restaurants at Port St. Joe and a lone food truck at Mexico Beach that have managed to reopen:
The Forgotten Coast is forgotten no more after Michael. This community will fight to retain their casual, off the beaten path feel, continuing to push back against high rise condos and large crowds. Our hearts go out to these folks who have such a long road to recovery. Mexico Beach is still accepting donations if you wish to help.
Next up: Going Coastal – A wrap-up of our Florida sojourn