The Vanishing Pier at Fort Clinch

Fort Clinch pier is gone and missed already! See pier removal photos (before & after images).

Fishing Fort Clinch Pier People photo November 2014
THE PAST: “Gone Fishing.” People Near Pier’s End

For those who haven’t previously walked or fished from what had been Florida’s longest pier (located on Amelia Island), that day may never come.

Sadly, the Fort Clinch pier was damaged by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. After engineering evaluations, a decision was made to remove it. Piece by piece, the pier began to vanish at the end of April 2017.

Fort Clinch Pier Gone, Jetty Sits Alone
Fort Clinch Pier Gone, Jetty Sits Alone 6-14-2017

About six weeks later it was completely gone, creating a surreal scene for those who knew it well. (Browse photos taken before, during, and after pier removal).

The pier at Fort Clinch State Park was 2,409 feet long — that’s 864 feet longer than the state’s next longest. It seems unlikely that a future new pier will be as lengthy due to replacement costs and available resources. The hurricane caused damage to other state parks as well. Fingers crossed the pier is rebuilt within five years.

Last Walk Along Pier 8-10-16 Before Its Demise
Last Walk Along Pier 8-10-16 Before Its Demise

The last time visiting the pier, it was a typical hot summer day in August, about 2 months before the hurricane. The scene was a picture-perfect blue sky day. One could not have imagined at the time, what was solidly under foot would be gone by next summer.

Pier Is Missed

While fishermen tried their luck, the structure served various other purposes. The pier was also a long observation deck to watch birds and boats. It was an ideal place for a little exercise where one could walk above the water for almost a mile to end and back. Purely for pleasure, it was a picture-perfect place to absorb an amazing view and feel a sea breeze. Here’s hoping headway is being made in a sea of procedural steps to build a future new pier.

Strange Sight, Fort Clinch Pier Is No More
Strange Sight, Fort Clinch Pier Is No More (6-14-2017)

Peering at a pier-less shore, Fort Clinch Pier is no more. Both strange and sad, just have to stare. Hard to fathom, it’s not there.

Long time residents of Fernandina, however, recall days prior to 1980, before the pier was ever built. For them, visiting the jetty area today is a flashback of pre-pier days.

The Vanishing Pier
THE END: Last section of Fort Clinch Pier 6-3-17 before removal.
THE END: Last Section of Fort Clinch Pier 6-3-17 Before Removal

Located in Fernandina Beach within the state park, the Fort Clinch pier was the only public-access ocean pier on Amelia Island (getting into the park is $6 per vehicle, up to eight people). The island’s other ocean pier is privately-owned by a condominium association, available only to Amelia By The Sea owners and their guests.

Fort Clinch Pier During Its Removal (Photo May 10, 2017)
Fort Clinch Pier During Its Removal (Photo May 10, 2017)

The pier’s location was beside a marine traffic channel in and out of Fernandina Beach, Florida, St. Mary’s Georgia, and Kings Bay Naval Station. Passing by regularly are sail boats, shrimp boats and pleasure cruisers. And occasionally the opportunity to observe Navy submarines and their escort vessels going to and from the base.

Where Birds Congregate

Around the pier was one of the best places to observe shore and sea birds both along the pier and below it. Winters, a more rare returning visitor in recent years has been a purple sandpiper.

Winter Bird: Purple Sandpiper, Fort Clinch Pier, Jan. 2015
Winter Bird: Purple Sandpiper, Fort Clinch Pier (Jan. 2015)

The elevated view from the pier offered a perspective looking down to the jetty rocks where various bird species tend to congregate. One scene captured below, birds were flying around the pier while remnant pieces of wood debris took the form of a bird landing on the structure. This accidental abstract art seemed a poetic tribute.

Abstract Art: Pier Debris Resembles Bird Landing
Abstract Art: Pier Debris Resembles Bird Landing (May 10, 2017)
Amazing Waterfront Vista
Fort Clinch Half-Mile-Long Fishing Pier, Fernandina Beach
THE PAST: Fort Clinch Pier (Photo 5 Years Ago, 2012)

The pier offered a captivating coastal panorama with ability to “walk on water.”

PAST VIEW: Low Tide View From Pier Looking South (photo 2014)
THE PAST: View From Pier Looking South, Low Tide (photo 2014)

When wandering the pier, one could look south from its elevated viewpoint to take in the curvy coastline of Amelia Island. Then glance north looking toward Cumberland Island, GA to watch boating activity in the channel.

View From Fort Clinch Pier Looking North Toward Cumberland Island
View From Pier Looking North Toward Cumberland Island

Of course, Fort Clinch State Park’s shoreline offers ample waterfront views like the wonderful scene below, taken near the fortress cannons. Currently, we’d vote this one of the top waterfront views available on Amelia Island. Even so, it’s not quite the same experience as being nearly a half mile out and above the water on a pier.

Wonderful Waterfront Panorama, Fort Clinch
Wonderful Waterfront Panorama, Fort Clinch
Florida’s Longest Pier at 2,409 feet

While commonly referred to as being a “half-mile-long,” the Fort Clinch pier was built a bit shy of that at 2,409 feet. However, the Fort Clinch pier was 864 feet longer than the next longest pier in Florida (located at Navarre Beach, at 1,545 feet), according to data published by the DEP.

Ocean Piers Costly

Uncertainty remains as decision makers navigate through the pier replacement process and make further determinations for a future new pier. You can bet many Fernandina fingers are crossed that a new pier plan materializes sooner rather than later, along with allocation of ample funds.

$2.24 Million Spent 10 Years Ago

The Fort Clinch pier was closed for renovations from November 2007 through December 2008, and reopened in January 2009 after a $2,247,231 “overhaul project.” Included in the refurbishment had been the new addition of solar lighting along the pier. The cost of a future new pier will depend on various factors, including its construction materials (wood vs. concrete), length, width and whether it will have plumbing (like the former pier did). If a pier of similar size and construction (concrete) was built, its cost could possibly reach the double digit millions.

Learn More About Pier Construction

Get an idea of the complexity of the ocean pier building process by taking a look at 103-page report published by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems). This research covers historical pier damage in Florida (with photos) and sheds light on the planning, methodology and formulas that have evolved over time. See “Fishing Pier Design Guidance Part 2: Methodologies for Design and Construction” (March 2011). The report includes a list of ocean piers in the Sunshine State, along with their lengths.

Related articles:

— “The October Hurricane Not Soon To Be Forgotten,”
— “Feeling Fortunate in Fernandina Beach.”
“Up To 10 Years To Replace Fort Clinch Pier?”

By The Editor

Observations of island life, news & opinion by Wendy Lawson. Residing on Amelia Island for 30+ years, her professional background began at a newspaper in NY. She later became a managing editor at an equity research publishing firm and was Series 7 licensed while with Merrill Lynch.