WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG) - It’s one of the Panhandle’s crown jewels. And though tucked away, that hasn’t kept the world’s most renown expert on beaches from not only discovering it, but heaping praise on it.
Grayton Beach State Park is located just off 30A in Walton County. Some may say it's a prescription for the ills urbanization can sometimes inflict upon them.
“I’ve lived in several places all over the world and all over the United States," said Patrick Hartsfield, the assistant manager at Grayton Beach and Deer Lake State Park, "and you’re not going to find anything like this anywhere else."
Dr. Stephen Leatherman agrees. Leatherman is also famously known as Dr. Beach.
"It’s an area that is so beautiful and the water is so clear and clean, and it’s just delightful," said Leatherman. "In other words, the sand is so bright you have to wear sunglasses in summer."
Every year Dr. Beach releases his top ten list of the country's most beautiful beaches. Grayton Beach State Park checks in at number four on his most recent list.
“When we all heard about it, yeah the whole staff, visitors, everybody that would come into the park or was associated with the park in any form or fashion, there’s a lot of excitement,” said Hartsfield.
“The first couple days [after the list is released] there’s almost 600 million [web] impressions," said Leatherman. "In other words, about 600 million people were exposed to this list either on television or in their local newspaper.”
Dr. Beach is a professor and director of the Laboratory of Coastal Research at Florida International University. He uses 50 criteria to grade beaches, and ranks them on a scale of one to five, with five being best.
“The area has a beautiful natural beach, very wide beach, and white crystal quartz sand. Just lovely." said Leatherman. "And the tourmaline color water, perfectly clear and clean, far away from any sort of industrial areas or any pollution. Really nice sand dunes and walkways over them. And behind that, ponds, and you know, just a lovely environment.”
"Hidden here is what we like to refer as the 'real' Florida," said Hartsfield. "And this is where you can come and you can see the sand dunes the way they are meant to be seen. Grayton Beach just has a lot of unique opportunities for especially your outdoor enthusiasts or even just the person who wants to just come sunbathe. I mean there’s a lot to do here.”
Dr. Beach says this is former Governor Bob Graham's favorite beach. But Graham isn't alone.
“We have folks from as far away as Germany, Greenland, Australia [come here]," said Hartsfield. "[I] just was talking to some folks from California a while ago, and myself I lived in California temporarily, and they were just amazed. They had never seen anything like the water here or the beaches here.”
And one of the beach's selling points besides its beauty...
“We have such an amount of beach here that it’s never overcrowded,” said Hartsfield.
A quality that helps maintain the beach's wave of popularity.
“We all swell with pride!” said Hartsfield.
A popularity its fans hope one day propels it to number one once again on the good doctor's list. The last time that happened was 1994.
“It’s a reward system, but it’s also a check for beach communities to try to maintain their quality and to stay on the list,” said Leatherman.
Siesta Beach in Sarasota topped Dr. Beach's top ten list this year. In all, three Florida beaches showed up on the list. Caladesi Island State Park in the Dunedin/Clearwater area came in at number 7.