2013 Conference Field Trip Y - Fort Clinch State Park

By Laurie Sheldon

Aerial view of Fort Clinch
Fort Clinch State Park is a great field trip for those with an appreciation of both nature and history. The Civil War-era fort is flanked by beautiful beaches and hiking trails through diverse natural communities: beach dune, coastal strand, maritime hammock, coastal grasslands, depression marsh, and estuarine tidal marsh. All together, the park extends over 1,427 acres of Amelia Island, Florida’s northernmost barrier island.

Named for General Duncan Lamont Clinch, a prominent figure of the Second Seminole War, construction of Fort Clinch began in 1847. The fort was strategically located at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River to protect the natural deep-water port of Fernandina - the eastern link of Florida’s only cross-state railroad. Fort Clinch served as a military post during the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War II - despite the fact that it was never fully completed. Fort Clinch became one of the state’s first parks in 1935.

Fort Clinch State Park Recreation Map

The park’s maritime hammocks are dominated by sprawling live oaks draped in Spanish moss. Coastal grasslands meet the hammocks and stretch along the shore behind dunes on the Atlantic Ocean and Cumberland Sound. Both areas present opportunities to see wildlife; among the resident species are gopher tortoises, deer, bobcats and reptiles. Birding enthusiasts will be pleased to discover the park’s Gateway Station to the Great Florida Birding Trail.
Fort Clinch is part of a greenway that provides habitat
for shorebirds& birds of prey. Photo by Dawna Moore.

One of the trip's adventures will be on Willow Pond Trail, which begins in a maritime hammock and winds through a depression marsh and around a series of freshwater ponds. These ponds offer prime habitat for alligators and turtles. Egan’s Creek Marsh borders the west boundary of the park and a saltwater estuary abundant with marine life. The salt marsh offers scenic vistas and is populated with wading birds while the beaches provide a critical foraging and nesting habitat for colonial shorebirds and sea turtles. We hope attendees will see some of the year's first turtle nests - there were more than 40 last year, including 3 different species. Hikers will definitely come across Spanish dagger (Yucca gloriosa), an endangered species, and erect prickly-pear cactus (Opuntia stricta), a threatened species, so it's best to stay sure-footed and refrain from running.

Pedestrian-friendly historic Fernandina is a fun
place for lunch and an afternoon stroll.
When participants are done hiking and touring the fort, lunch will definitely be in order, and the City of Fernandina Beach is a great place to fill your belly. Luckily, tour guide Linda Schneider lives (and eats) there. Tell her what you’re in the mood for and she’ll recommend a place to go get it. Relax, have a nosh, take in the ocean breeze, and talk with your new friends about what a great field trip and conference it was. No need to rush... you'll have to head home soon enough. After four days of field trips, speakers, workshops, and socials, it might remind you of how your school-aged self felt at the end of summer vacation.

Sign up for field trip Y before it fills up. Space is limited.

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