A walk through time
Apr 09, 2015 12:15PM
If you live in a populated resort locale like Amelia Island, you may be surprised to discover the number of hiking and biking trails that are practically in your backyard. Recently, my friend Cindy decided to take a hike at Fort Caroline National Memorial, located in the Timucuan Preserve, about halfway between Amelia Island and Jacksonville Beach. The Timucua were the Indians who made contact with the first European arrivals in this area in the mid-1500s. These people hunted and gathered in the forests and marshes, collecting clams and oysters, and they used waterways like St. Johns Creek for transportation. Within the preserve is the Theodore Roosevelt Area, a place where people can leave the everyday pressures and stresses of life behind and enter a world where their senses can indulge in the sounds, smells, and sights of Old Florida. The park is a gift offered to the people of the Jacksonville area by an insightful gentleman named Willie Browne, who lived his entire life on the property. Towards the end of his life, he became worried that Jacksonville would become a concrete jungle with no wild areas remaining. Developers offered Browne millions of dollars to buy his land, but he declined and donated the land to the Park Service so that future generations would have “a place in the woods to go to.” Fort Caroline National Memorial is an area within the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, a fort that protected the first planned French settlement in the United States. Jean Ribault led the expedition in 1562 and he erected a monument on the bluff above what is now the St. Johns River. Spain sought to dislodge the French and sent Pedro Menendez to set up a base at St. Augustine. Menendez marched north with 500 soldiers and massacred 140 settlers, before marching south and slaughtering 350 more men. This area was eventually named Matanzas, which means “slaughter.” The original site of “La Caroline” no longer exists, possibly washed away after the river channel was altered in the 1880s. The fort exhibit is based on a 1500s sketch by Jacques le Moyne, colony artist and mapmaker. Cindy and I stopped into the visitor center to chat with the rangers, and then headed out to the hiking trails. The preserve has many places to hike; we began at the Timucuan Preserve Headquarters and hiked north, crossing Hammock Creek to a viewing area called Round Marsh. A connecting trail took us along the bank of St. Johns Creek, where we saw mounds of oyster shells, built by the Timucuans. Taking a left off that trail, we came upon the grave of a Confederate soldier, and then further down the trail, Browne’s home site and his family cemetery. We decided to loop around so we could hike back to our vehicle, but if we had continued northwest we would have come to Spanish Pond, where the Spanish soldiers camped before they attacked the French settlers. What’s great about this hiking spot is that you can enjoy the beauty of the forest, the marsh and its wildlife, and St. Johns Creek, while learning the history of this very significant area. The trails are easy to hike and suitable for all ages and abilities. To learn more about Fort Caroline, visit www.nps.gov/foca.