It has been a frustrating 12 months for everyone in lockdown during the pandemic, but one thing Amelia Islanders have going for us is that we live on an island paradise! Our beaches and restaurants are open, and there are numerous safe outdoor activities we can take advantage of.
Recently, my husband, Troy, and I took a weekend “staycation” at Fort Clinch State Park, a gem for nature lovers and history buffs. After a quick trip to the grocery store for food, ice, and charcoal, we headed down the canopied road to Fort Clinch’s Amelia River campground. Within minutes, we had set up our camp and were ready to explore.
Fort Clinch has several miles of hiking trails, including the Willow Pond Trail, which snakes its way around Willow Pond, an otherworldly destination. Troy decided to hike that trail, while I took some beach time for myself. The park has several miles of beach for shelling, swimming, and fishing, and I brought my binoculars to check out the shore birds. Painted Buntings, Piping Plovers, Brown Pelicans, and Wood Storks all make Fort Clinch their home at some time during the year.
After our walks, Troy and I met up to visit the fort itself, with its row of cannons staring across the St. Marys River into Georgia. Fort Clinch is one of the most well-preserved 19th-century forts in the country. Although no battles were fought here, it was garrisoned during both the Civil and Spanish-American wars.
The fort is one in a series of masonry forts constructed between 1816 and 1867. The fort has limited activities since the pandemic, but it is open to explore and we were happy to meet up with our friend and Park Ranger, Frank Ofledt, who was riding horses with his assistant that day. Fort Clinch offers a unique living history experience! A soldier is on duty every day of the year, including holidays. Visitors are encouraged to ask questions and interact with the soldier as he goes about his daily activities.
After our visit to the fort, we went back to our campsite to get ready for dinner. Nothing beats food cooked over a campfire! Fort Clinch has two campgrounds, one on the Amelia River and the other on the beach. I love the river site because it offers shade, and we can access the hiking trails directly from our campsite without having to drive. Their facilities are clean and in top-notch condition, and there’s even a laundry area. In addition, Fort Clinch offers primitive and youth camping.
Another thing we love about the park is its location. You can see the sunrise at the beach in the morning, and then watch it set on the river in the evening. On our second day, we got up early to see the sun rise, then hiked the main trail up to the entry gate, and back again, for a total of six miles. This trail is also open to mountain bikes, and on it you’ll discover tabby structures, ponds, and a view of the Amelia Lighthouse.
The shoreline along St. Marys Inlet provides great opportunities for viewing dolphin and an occasional right whale. Deer often graze in the grasslands adjacent to the fort during early morning and late afternoon. Gopher tortoise gather on the dune ridges during warmer months. We love to hang out at the inlet in late afternoon, looking for wildlife with our binoculars and watching the boats go by.
For more information on how to enjoy your own “staycation” at Ft. Clinch, visit the fort’s website at floridastateparks.org/fortclinch.