Historical Treasures of Northeast Florida
By: Kyle Grammatica
Fort Clinch State Park
The 1,400-acre Fort Clinch State Park has something for everyone! Whether you’re a history buff, a trail trekker, or a beach lover you’ll find something to enjoy at Fort Clinch State Park.
The area that Fort Clinch State Park sits on has been used by Floridians for almost 300 years. The first fortifications were built in 1736, but Fort Clinch itself was not built until the 1800s. After the War of 1812, the United States began building “Third System Fortifications,” which were a series of forts like Fort Clinch built to protect the country against foreign invaders. Construction began in 1847 but by the beginning of the Civil War the fort was still only partially complete. At the start of the Civil War, the Confederates assumed control of Fort Clinch, but the Union quickly took over. After the Civil War, the US Army maintained the fort on caretaker status until the Spanish-American War began, and the fort saw use once again. During the Spanish-American War, the fort was used as a barracks and ammunition depot, but in less than a year the war was over and Fort Clinch was abandoned. In 1926 the Army sold Fort Clinch to private entities as it was no longer of strategic value. In 1935 Fort Clinch became one of Florida’s first state parks, and underwent restoration efforts in 1936 thanks to the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). During World War II, Fort Clinch was used as a joint operations center for surveillance and communications, and at the end of the war was given back to the state and opened to the public.
While many visitors spend their time touring the historic Fort Clinch, another popular attraction is Willow Pond Nature Trail. This trail takes you through an incredible forest full of wildlife. Depending on the time of day, you may encounter alligators, ospreys, frogs, and bats. The trail is a loop and should take less than an hour to complete. If you’re interested in learning more about the trail and native wildlife, join a guided nature tour held on Saturdays at 10:30am. Of course, when talking about Fort Clinch State Park, the beaches can’t be forgotten! Visitors can surf, fish, paddle, and hunt for shark teeth on the sandy shores of the park.
Big Talbot Island State Park
Big Talbot Island State Park is located on one of northeast Florida’s sea islands. It was home to some of Florida’s oldest human inhabitants, the Timucua people. Evidence of their occupation can be found from shell middens, ancient trash piles of oyster shell and food refuse found throughout the island. By the late 18th century Europeans had fully settled in the area and named the surrounding islands after Charles Baron Talbot, Lord High Chancellor of England. Today, Big Talbot is a nature preserve and is one of the few undeveloped barrier islands in Florida. Big Talbot Island State Park provides visitors with incredible opportunities for bird watching, hiking, nature photography, and other activities. Take a stroll along the beach and see the incredible beauty of Big Talbot Island State Park!
Trails lead you through a hammock forest and coastal scrub habitats where gopher tortoises, songbirds, and bald eagles can be spotted. On the beach you’ll see the large sun-bleached remains of hardwood trees. These trees fell onto the shore through the power of erosion. The remains now act as a protective barrier for the rest of the island by dispersing the wind and waves from causing further erosion. While walking along the beach you will also find bluffs formed through years of being beaten by waves and wind. Some of these bluffs reach 30 feet high!
We hope you get to enjoy these parks soon!