The Jewels of Northeast Florida, Part 1

By Sandra Coffman (wren) on August 2, 2010

Have you ever looked around the area where you live? How many interesting places are there to go? I am lucky that here in the Northeast corner of Florida we have a lot to see and do. Let’s visit some of these Jewels; some hidden and some not.

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We will be going north of Jacksonville; once again we will travel most of the way on A1A.  From my home, on the east side of Jacksonville, we will first travel east  on Atlantic Blvd. Thankfully we will be going in the opposite direction from the morning traffic, which can be a bear, especially since there is road work going on.  The only problem with traveling this way early in the morning is that Bruster’s Ice Cream shop will not be open. They have the best Ice cream!!!!  Oh well, we can stop on the way back.

Remember to stay in the right hand lane as we will get onto A1A (Mayport Road) by way of a very, very high overpass.  If you travel around Jacksonville much, you will notice that whoever planned the roads must have been on drugs or have been hitting the White Lightning.  Half the time I still end up going the wrong way at the intersection of I95 and I10 and it will only get worse when they finish the junction.  To go West onto I10, you have to take the ramp on the north side; to go north onto I95 you have to take the ramp that is on the south side.

This part of A1A is not a pretty section, very run down but there is a hidden jewel on the right just before you get to the gates of Mayport Navel Base.  Kathryn Abby Hanna Park, a great park, beautiful beach, brackish lakes for fishing, birding, hiking and biking trails.  Just remember to get a map of the trails and even then you will probably get lost.  I think the same person who planned the roads planned these trails but they are well worth the time to hike.  Just remember which way is east and you will always find your way out of this wonderful coastal habitat.  Or maybe these trails were laid out by the ding bat that led our Audubon group in the early days of the park.  We were asked to look over the area to help get a feel for the land for hiking trails.  After hiking all over the place and going around in circles, our trusty leader confessed that he did not know the way back to where we parked.  I gave a silent “thank you Lord” and then pointed out the direction that would take us back to the cars.  Being a male, he questioned my sense of direction.  I walked forward a short distant and said “I can now see the cars”.  He gave me a funny look, then he and the others followed me out of the woods to the right place.

A funny thing happened here when I had my dog Andre with me; so wished I had my camera.  We were in the picnicking area near the lakes when we saw an Armadillo.  We walked quietly up to it and, as you know, they have very poor eyesight; so we got right up to it before it realized we were there.  The strange little creature raised up on it’s back legs and sniffed nose to nose with my crazy dog.  Then it went back to looking for insects.  Andre turned and looked at me and grinned.  He followed the “dillo” for a good bit.  Whenever he would sniff it’s rump, it would turn and stand up and touch noses with him; but when I said something, the little armadillo jumped and took off running.  He was not afraid of the “wolf” but of the 2 legged monster.  A note about Armadillo’s - do you know that the female always gives birth to totally identical babies?  She produces one egg that divides 4 to 12 times.

Leaving the park, we go on a road that wraps around the outside border of the Navel base.  Now, on the west side of the base, there is a marsh and between it and the base there is a long line of mounded up earth.  On this side you cannot see into the base.  Many years ago, on one of the Christmas bird counts, a group of our Audubon members were given permission to go on the base and hunt for birds. They traveled all over the base with scope and binoculars but no one stopped or questioned them.  But when they went outside of the base and were looking at the birds in this marsh---here came the Shore Patrol!!!!!  It took them some time to convince the military police that they were harmless.
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Now we need to cross the St John’s River.  There are a number of bridges but if we have the time, there is a fun way to go.  First we must go to the tiny little town of Mayport.  Not much there but it is one of the docks for the Mayport Ferry; a fun ride.  Just be warned that they will BLAST the air horn before they leave the dock.  Also be warned that depending on which pilot is at the wheel, the docking can be kind of rough; although I think they fired the drunken captain a few years ago.

Once off the ferry, head east, and you will come to the entrance for Fort George Island on the left. This is a beautiful wooded area where there was once a golf course.  But after much fighting, it was allowed to be returned to the wild. The golfers wanted to keep the course but the park service wanted to close it and let it return to the wild state.  Many said that the land could not recover. They were wrong.  Most of the island belongs to the State Park system.  There is a wide range of habitats - but no longer a golf course.

People have been using this island for over 5,000 years.  Native Americans used the island and in 1736 a fort was built there.  During the years between 1814 and 1865, Zephaniah Kingsley built and ran the plantation that is named after him.  He was also a slave trader.  Mr. Kingsley bought and married 13 year old Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley.  They had 4 children; then he freed her and made her and their children his heirs.  They grew Sea Island cotton, indigo and all the food to feed the family and slaves that lived on the Plantation.

Today visitors can enjoy boating, fishing, off-road bicycling and hiking. The recently restored Ribault Club was at one time an exclusive resort.  It is a very beautiful building and is now a visitor’s center.  Behind it is a launching point for small boats, canoes and kayaks into the tidal creeks and marshes.  These water ways are surprisingly enjoyable to travel - that is if you have brought a lot of bug spray.  The skeeters are fierce out in the marshes.  Right now the plantation house is closed but there are other things to see.  They have a garden with plants that were grown back in the days that the plantation was in operation and was very active.  One of the slave houses has been restored. There are 2 burrows of the endangered gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemu). This is a great birding area especially in the fall, winter and spring. There are some really old trees; one is a cedar tree that must be one hundred years old.


Related articles:
Armadillo, Audubon, biking, birding, Ferry, fishing, florida, Fort George Island, gopher tortoise, hiking, Jacksonville, Jewels, Kathryn Abby Hanna Park, Kingsley, Mayport, Northeast Florida, parks, plantation, St John’s River, State Park, trails

About Sandra Coffman
I am a Third generation Florida Native, Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida.

My interests are in Birding, gardening, photography, reading, crocheting, traveling - though I can't do as much of that now - and surviving my Belgian Tervuren Andre the demon child.

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Very nice MaryE Aug 4, 2010 9:31 PM 6

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