We recently vacationed on the shores of the Florida Panhandle. It was wonderful to be with grandchildren and children.
I never get away from Highlands where I do not stop to compare notes. The same happened this time. We rented a house at Grayton Beach, a resort town nestled between Seaside and Destin. This small beach village is like Highlands in sharing similar development histories and related problems.
The first night we took the entire family to the famous Red Bar Restaurant. That experience underscored a mutually shared problem. It was raining so I piled everyone in the car and dropped them off at the restaurant. I told them I would just run around the corner and park. I failed to understand that about a gazillion other people were in town hunting for that one open parking spot. After riding around for 10 minutes, I drove back to the house and literally ran back to the restaurant. So if you think Highlands has a parking problem, other towns have real parking problems, aka no significant parking at all, not only on Main Street but on secondary roads too.
Parking is such a problem that Grayton Beach has created a “piney woods” parking lot about a mile away. They operate golf cart and mini bus shuttles from the parking lot to the beach area. It might be a stretch, but we could create a parking lot near Scaly and shuttle folks to Main Street. Just kidding!
Grayton Beach has a development history similar to Highlands. The first settlers led by Charles Gray arrived in 1885. Grayton Beach is named after Major Gray. By 1890 several recent arrivals mapped out the roads of the town, incidentally on July 4th.
Like the founders of Highlands, the early residents of Grayton Beach tried to attract tourist and vacationers. They too were hampered by marginal roads, no bridges and no electricity. By the early 1930s an EMC provided power and roads connecting the town to Destin and Panama City were in place. Sounds familiar, Highlands got running water and electricity with the 1929 completion of the Lake Sequoyah Dam. That same year, the Gorge Road was completed so tourist had better access.
Another similar connection is between Highlands’ Helen Barn and the Red Bar in Grayton Beach. Both venues started out as Saturday night dance halls.
Grayton Beach and Highlands, are refuges due to preserved areas. Highlands is surrounded by the national forest. Grayton Beach, to their good fortune, is surrounded by state park facilities. This park system was created in 1967 before the massive developments in Destin, Water Color and Seaside started in the 1980s.
Unlike the surrounding planned private communities, Grayton Beach like Highlands, is a historic community. Fishing cottages are still standing that were built in the 1920s or earlier. Highlands also has similar historic buildings. The blend of old and new in both Highlands and Grayton Beach make for an interesting array of architectural forms and styles. They too are witnessing the infill-phenomena where folks purchase a property for the land, demolish the small old home and replace it with a mega structure. There are rumors that even some homes built in the 1990s may fall victim to this process.
I was very impressed with the hospitality shown by Grayton Beach locals. Like Highlanders, they know community visitors are vital to the economy. They are also nice people that take pride in their community. One gets the feeling they want visitors to have a great time. We did, and we will go back, as we’ve done for years.
– Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor