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Mattie Kelly Park and Nature Walk

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I love boardwalks. I don’t know what it is about them, but something about seeing the landscape from a raised platform changes my perspective, allowing me to observe plants or wildlife I wouldn’t otherwise notice. Mattie Kelly Park and Nature Walk has not one but ­two such boardwalks, one over a wetland and one out into the bayou acting as a fishing pier. With such a combination, it’s no surprise the park has quickly become one of my favorites.

I began on the nature trail, looking down at wetland grasses, ferns, and other species. Everything was so green and lush, practically glowing in the afternoon sunshine. I marveled at how the trees nearby cast dappled shadows on the wood of the raised path, and how I could lean over the railing and gaze down at the flowers below.

My favorite plant however, came at the very end of the walk. American beautyberries have the most dazzling purple berries, so bright it’s sometimes hard to believe that they are naturally that color. Though they are not edible for humans, they are an important food source for songbirds. When I looked the plant up later I learned that their berries ripen in August and September, so I had picked the perfect time to see them.

After the trail ended I quickly crossed the street to where the park borders the bayou. The beach sloped to a small grass lawn, adjacent to which was a pond that appeared to be fresh or brackish water. It was alive with bird life: a Belted Kingfisher alighted from its perch as I approached, and I could hear both Great Blue Herons and Ospreys overhead.

I couldn’t resist the pull of the boardwalk pier for long though, and soon I was elevated over the bayou, peering below at schooling bait fish and waving sea grass. The water was gorgeous, and only a few sailboats dotted the horizon line in front of me; I felt like I had the bayou to myself. I did not bring a fishing pole, but I could imagine the larger fish feasting on the bait fish I saw beneath me, and how relaxing it would be to spend a few hours here, away from the busier harbor areas of Destin.