Saturday, April 19, 2014

Fort Clinch State Park and Amelia Island

Sand dunes, plains, maritime hammocks and estuarine tidal marsh. That’s what we were looking forward to finding at Fort Clinch State Park, located on Amelia Island at the entrance to Cumberland Sound in the northeast corner of Florida.

The state park came highly rated by RVers so a reservation for our two night stay had to be made several weeks in advance. And we’re glad we did as our choice site, backed up to the beach, made for easy walking beach access.

The park, and a 19th century brick fortress which began to be constructed in 1847 at the end of the Second Seminole War, are named in honor of Duncan Lamont Clinch, an important player in the First and Second Seminole Wars. The fort never played a pivotal role as part of any major battles. The only battle that occurred at the fort was when Union troops rested the fort back from Confederate troops in 1862 who had taken the fort a year earlier.

The fort remained in caretaker status until 1898 when the U.S. Army garrisoned it during the Spanish-American War but the fort’s usefulness was short lived when the Army abandoned it again a year later. For several years the fort lay abandoned until in the 1930’s when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began restoration of the fort. The state of Florida purchased the property in 1935, and in 1938, Fort Clinch State Park was opened to the public. The only other military use of the structure took place during WWII when the fort was closed to the public and used as a communications and coastal security post.

The restored fort, now on the National Register of Historic Places, remains a highlight of the park where on the first weekend of each month, state park personnel reenact military life. Living history interpreters may be found daily on the fort grounds ready to answer visitor questions about life in the fort during 1864.

In addition to visiting the fort, our time in the park included a few walks on the beach and exploring the fishing pier area for bird life. A few hiking trails in the park provided a change in habitat.
A bit further afield is the community of Fernandina Beach located just south of the park. Established in 1811, it was named for King Ferdinand VII of Spain. The area was first inhabited by the Timucuan Indian tribe. Ferdnandina Beach has the unique distinction of being the only municipality in the United States of having the flags of eight nations nations flown over it since 1562: France, Spain, Great Britain, Spain (again), the Patriots of Amelia Island, the Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, the Confederate States of America, and the United States.
Amelia island’s Hollywood connection? It was the location of the mystical land for the 1988 film, “The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking”.

Prior to the Civil War, it wasn’t uncommon to have pirates inhabiting the area. Now the inhabitants of Fernaduna are far more civilized and most of the attractions in the community are the numerous restored victorian homes, easily walkable from the historic downtown which is filled with boutiques, restaurants, and bars. Most of the downtown has been rebuilt following fires in 1873 and 1865 which accounts for so many brick structures

The area was a pleasant stopover and we’d recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in this part of Florida. Historic attractions and wildlife viewing were pretty much what we had anticipated. Next up: Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge where we would be spending the next five months.

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