The best state park ever? Maybe.
My fascination with Fort Clinch – which I started to write about when I sang the praises of the maligned sandspur – has to do with many things, probably too long for a single blog post, but I’m going to try.
In September, we did a cross-Florida road trip, which we completely did not plan in advance. Instead, we looked for last-minute campsites a day or three in advance (I freely admit this is not for everyone.) We lucked out toward the end of our trip and scored a few nights at Fort Clinch State Park.
I’d traveled through Fort Clinch while working on “Backroads of Paradise“, but I’d never spent the night. My friend, Jon Kile (who has a pretty nifty website where he writes about his own travels), married a woman from the area, so they’ve been there a time or two, and his rhapsodizing about the park made me think we needed to visit.
Fort Clinch, one of Florida’s first state parks, started life as – big shock here – fort. In the 1730s – when Florida belonged to Spain – the earliest work on a fort started, but only a century or so later, shortly after Florida joined the US, did construction begin on the fort as we see it today. After the Civil War – I’m shortcutting a lot of history here because I assume that’s not exactly why you’re here, but if you have more history questions, check out Fort Clinch’s abbreviated history on the park’s website – the US abandoned the fort, sealing an almost-certain fate of demolition by neglect.
In the 1930s, Roosevelt’s tree army – the Civilian Conservation Corps – set to work turning the empty fort into one of our state’s first state parks. CCC workers performed backbreaking work – including removing wheelbarrows filled with random debris from inside the fort.
At the edge of Florida (you can see Georgia from the campsites on the beach), the park represents some of the best of Florida’s state parks.
When we camped, we scored a beachside campground, so as soon as we settled in, I headed to the beach to check it out. I’ve seen lots of stuff on Florida beaches, but I was not prepared for this:
At first, I wasn’t sure I wasn’t seeing a whale, but right whales don’t have a fin on top of them. Also, they’re large, but not that large. Apparently, subs surface in this area to get to the naval base, and I’d happened along one. (Note to self: bring telephoto lens and camera on beach strolls)
After that, the deer and the gopher tortoises and sandpipers… well, OK, they were all still pretty cool. I found a gopher tortoise strolling through the dunes…
…and even saw a baby one (I know I’m supposed to write “juvenile” but they’re so damn cute) at the Fort.
Of course, the fort itself has some pretty amazing sights, not the least of which is its architecture. We had a great talk about the history of the fort – and the suspicion that, at least for a time, one of Florida’s Black CCC companies (Jim Crow Florida and all, the Black men who worked for the CCC all had to go to the Myakka location) may have visited the park and worked there – with historian Frank Ofeldt, who wore a period military uniform but thankfully didn’t do that dreadful thing where he pretended it was 1860 (pet peeve: historians who like to pretend to be from the time they study.)
Back on the beach, we found we had a friend at sunset for a couple of nights. Of course, I have no way of knowing if it was the same bird every night – they could have all talked about the weird lady with blue toes and come by, one by one, to see aforementioned toes. Other than that, though, the beach was pretty much deserted.
If there’s a better place in Florida, I haven’t found it yet.
Of course, I say that at almost every beach, and I’m determined to keep looking.