Monday, March 17, 2008

Fort Clinch State Park

Where Nature and History Merge

Located on the northern tip of Amelia Island, Florida's northernmost east coast barrier island, Fort Clinch's 2.3 miles of ocean and sound beaches are some of Florida's best. White Appalachian quartz sand, clear waters, surrounded by dunes of up to 40 feet high, salt marshes, meandering tidal creeks, and coastal hammocks are some of the reasons why the beach at Fort Clinch was named one of the top in the country by Conde Naste Traveler.

Fort Clinch State Park embraces the first of Miami's beaches and covers 1,121 acres of Amelia Island. The eastern side of the park is bounded by 4,000 feet of Atlantic coast, and the western side by an extensive estaurine marsh system and 8,400 feet of shore along the Cumberland sound, the sound that seperates Georgia from Florida.

At Fort Clinch, the striking natural environment mergers with one of the best-preserved masonry military forts in the U.S. Here, park rangers, dressed in Civil War uniforms, offer regular programs to showcase the daily life of a Union garrison in 1864. The beach is right in front of the fort and provides a unique experience for visitors by preserving, protecting and showcasing portions of Florida's natural and historic resources. The combination makes Fort Clinch State Park a teriffic place to take the kids.

The Fort:

A two-mile-long oak- and hardwood-canopied road leads to the masonry military fort. Started just before the Civil War the fort alternately housed Union and Confederate troops and briefly saw duty during the Spanish-American War as well as World War II. The fort was never actually completed, and more powerful armament soon made the fort's masonry walls obsolete.

The fort was named for General Duncan Lamont Clinch, a hero of the Seminole War of the 1830s. In 1861, the fort was occupied by Confederate troops who abandoned it in 1862, when it was claimed by Union forces. Fort Clinch even played a minor role in World War II, as beach patrollers kept lookout for invading Germans and a navigational beacon helped guide seaplanes home from training missions.

If you talk to the staff inside the fort they will tell you many interesting things about life back in the days when the fort was being built. One story you may hear is that the fort is haunted by a woman in white who may have lost her love.

A special way to view the fort is by candlelight tour. During the summer, these tours are conducted on Friday and Saturday nights by park rangers. The tours are by reservation only. A small fee is charged per person in addition to the park entrance fee.

All of the buildings are illuminated by candles. The ranger conducting the tour wears the uniform of the 1st New York Volunteer Engineers, the soldiers who occupied the fort during the Civil War. The guide comments on army life and the war in the vernacular of that time. The 1864 atmosphere is so realistic that no flash photography is allowed to destroy the illusion.

About four times a year there are 150 - 200 of them, who all dress in period costumes. The women cook food from the 1860s, they make bread by grinding the wheat and the kids play games from the 1860s. Call in advance for dates on the re-enactment weekends.

Natural History of the Park:

Huge sand dunes occur along the east side of the park, and a coastal hardwood hammock is found along the west side. The Atlantic beach, Cumberland Sound and salt marsh offer additional natural features and diversity for those interested in enjoying the real & natural Florida.

Significant plant communities throughout the park include sand dunes, overwash plains, maritime hammock and estuarine tidal marsh. Many of these can be observed from the nature trail at Willow Pond or the paved roadway through the hammocks. These are also prime locations for bird watching and nature study.

No comments: