Choctawhatchee Estuary Festival - June 1, Free Community Event at Rocky Bayou State Park in Niceville


The first annual Choctawhatchee Estuary Festival, a free family & community event is for all ages, will be held Sunday, June 1 from 11:00 am. to 4:00 p.m. at Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park, located at 4281 Highway 20 East in Niceville. There is no park entrance fee for the festival which offers fun activities, hands-on displays and environmental awareness. The event is hosted by the Mattie M. Kelly Cultural & Environmental Institute at Okaloosa-Walton College, along with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance at OWC and the Friends of the Emerald Coast State Parks.

The Choctawhatchee Estuary Festival will features activities for the whole family including fish printing on t-shirts, crab races, hiking, seining for fish, kayak tours, and more. There will also be informative displays on the Okaloosa darter, local snakes, red tide, and the Gulf sturgeon. Other festival events include guided nature walks, kayak and canoe tours, a presentation and book signing by local children's author Paul Lowery, and Native American flutist Jonny Lipford. All activities and entertainment are free of charge.

Families are encouraged to pack a picnic lunch and come learn about the local waters of our estuary and the people living and working there. For more information on the festival, contact the Mattie M. Kelly Cultural & Environmental Institute at 729-6469 or go online to

The festival is part of a two-day emphasis on the Choctawhatchee Bay which also includes a Mattie Kelly Environmental Symposium on the bay held on June 2 at Sandestin Resort. The symposium is a scientific meeting for researchers from academia, industry, and government to discuss topics related to the Choctawhatchee Estuary and its watershed. Dr. Bryon Griffith, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Gulf of Mexico Program, will present the keynote address at the scientific symposium and will discuss the health of the Gulf of Mexico and how estuaries in Northwest Florida, including the Choctawhatchee, impact the Gulf.

Both the public festival and the scientific symposium are organized by the OWC Mattie M. Kelly Cultural and Environmental Institute. The institute, which was established in 1997, is a partnership of OWC, the OWC Foundation Inc., and the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance of OWC, and is dedicated to the cultural, environmental, historical and instructional goals set forth for the institute by the late Mattie M. Kelly of Destin.

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