St. Marks captures nature's beauty
Nothing captures the attention of travelers quite like lighthouses or butterflies. Imagine getting to see both in one natural setting on Florida's Panhandle. I've always enjoyed hiking around the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to one of the nation's most historic lighthouses and to pristine natural environments. I was delighted to discover the refuge has hosted an annual Monarch Butterfly Festival every October for 25 years. Many people don't know that St. Marks is one of the last land stops on the eastern Monarchs' annual migration across the Gulf to central Mexico
's high-altitude fir forests. The St. Marks Refuge celebrates that journey with a festival on the fourth Saturday in October. In addition to the festival, visitors can help with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission's counting and tagging of Monarch butterflies on Saturdays through mid-November. If you can't make it in time for Monarchs, that's ok. You'll have plenty to do exploring the trails and the St. Marks Lighthouse, built in 1842. The picturesque structure has survived hurricanes, the Civil War, and modern technology. In 2000, the Fresnel lens was turned off and an external solar powered beacon was installed. The nearby town of St. Marks has several locally owned restaurants where you can always find fresh seafood.