Amelia Island is a barrier island in north Florida just south of the St Marys River. We drove 100 miles south to reach our next campsite at Ft Clinch State Park. As you may have guessed, Ft Clinch is an old fort and is one of Florida’s first state parks (1935).
Florida has done an outstanding job with their state parks. There are 161 state parks and 10 state trails. In comparison, Georgia has around 50. The State of Florida has preserved historical and beachfront lands over the entire state. The parks are reasonably priced at around $30 with water and electric, and they are half price for Florida seniors. They book up early, especially on the weekends. I booked around June and was able to find sites during the week, but not on most weekends.
Fort Clinch State Park is located on the top of Florida’s northernmost barrier island at the site of a Civil War-era fort. It is surrounded by the Amelia River, the St Mary’s River and the Atlantic Ocean. We parked on the river side under a canopy of live oaks dripping in Spanish moss. We could walk to the fort along the water. The fort was named after General Duncan Lamont Clinch, a prominent figure of the Second Seminole War. Construction began in 1867 and it was built at the mouth of the St Mary’s River to protect the natural deep-water port of Fernandina. It is an excellent example of the Third System of Fortifications. Although it was never completed, it still served as a military post during the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War II. The fort is well preserved and the rooms in the fort are full of period items.
The Egan Creek runs along the park and is a wildlife preserve. The Egan Creek Greenway was purchased by the city of Fernandina Beach for conservation and passive recreational use. The Greenway was a great place for a hike and wildlife viewing. I was told there were alligators in the creek and that they were very tame. And sure enough we came upon one sunning itself near the edge of the water. Ralph spotted it first and it didn’t move at all when we approached it (at a safe distance). We were told there was an entire family of gators further up the trail. The Greenway is a beautiful place for hiking and biking. A little gem I would never have known about if I hadn’t taken a trolly tour of the area.
My morning walks along the water were full of sea life. There was a pod of dolphins hanging out in the area for the entire time we were camped here. The first morning I was startled by them swimming about 10 yards from the beach. They were so close I could hear them exhaling through their blowholes. It was thrilling! I’ve had the opportunity to swim with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key and I’ve supported the center for many years. I just love dolphins and the center does excellent work with dolphins, manatees and seals.
I also found a HUGE horseshoe crab lying on it’s back. I turned him over so he could get back to the water. Ralph took a walk later and found him still on the sand so he gave him a ride to the water. I also found a jellyfish one morning. Didn’t touch that sucker! I’ve been stung by one many, many years ago and have never forgotten the feeling. Mr jellyfish was one his own. There is also a fishing pier at the park and it’s a half-mile long. That’s a very long pier!
I went into Fernandina Beach the small town at the top of Amelia Island. The town is pronounced like two women’s names; Fern and Dina and is rich with history. Amelia Island has 4,000 years of recorded history under eight flags. They say, “The French visited, the Spanish developed, the English named, and the Americans tamed. And let’s not forget the natives, the Timucuan Indians.
We went to the Amelia Island Museum of History in the old jail building and had an informative talk by one of the docents. We learned so much about the area. Many of the houses and buildings in Fernandina Beach are listed on the National Register, as is the entire 50-block historic district. I wandered around the town for a couple days and took it all in. I stopped at the Palace Saloon, supposedly the oldest bar in Florida, for a White Cosmo. Delish!Before these historic buildings lined the streets of Fernandina Beach, pirates roamed the town and the island. The likes of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Pierre and Jean LaFite, Calico Jack Rackham, Stede Bonnett and others all called on the relatively safe haven of Fernandina Harbor at some point. Pirate use of the island came to a head in 1817 when the French took control of the harbor.
Amelia Island is a wonderful place to visit and I will be back sometime in the future. I kept thinking, “What a great place this would be to live.”
Next stop Hanna City Park in Jacksonville Beach.