Fort Clinch reopened a few days after Hurricane Irma (see over a dozen photos below after Irma).
This Florida State Park is a must-see attraction when visiting Fernandina Beach. Not just for history buffs, it’s the largest, most natural area remaining on Amelia Island, Florida (over 1,400 acres). Fort Clinch offers the best barrier island outdoor experience available here, a glimpse of the “real Florida.”
Thankfully, the historic buildings around the parade grounds weathered the storm well. For history buffs, the Civil War-era fortress is said to be “one of the best preserved 19th century forts in America.” Some minor damage included a chimney that had tumbled over on the soldiers’ barracks building, and the quartermaster building sustained some roof shingle damage. The soldier silhouette (reenactor) pictured above is Frank Ofeldt, historian and Park Ranger at Fort Clinch since 1995. Those interested in learning more history of the Fort and seeing old photographs might like to check out his recently published book, “Images of America, Fort Clinch.”
Fort Surrounded By Water
The fortress area is known for its stunning panoramic waterfront views, perched on the northern tip of Amelia Island, with vistas of the Cumberland Sound and Amelia River. However, after Irma, there was even more water seen at Fort’s entry drawbridge. Noticeable was the drainage ditch along the wall abnormally full of water (something rarely seen). It gave the fort a rather neat look, a moat-like appearance. Inside the fort walls, the parade grounds had initially retained about four inches of water from Hurricane Irma, but all had drained off the grass.
Water also flooded into the State Park near the jetty area (where the fishing pier used to be). Sadly, the pier was removed during May/June 2017, after being damaged by last year’s Hurricane Matthew (see related article, “The Vanishing Pier” ). According to a source working in this pier area, it was thought water (about four feet high) had flooded into the dunes, the water going inland to near pier parking lot.
It appears storm surge harmed a large concentration of cedar trees near the East Inlet parking area. While most of the trees still stand, unfortunately, they look dead (unsure of their potential to recover). Pictured below, shoreline where fortress faces the Cumberland Sound.
Irma Spawns Tornadoes
Throughout the park, while sporadic trees came down, most of the maritime forest seems to be intact after Hurricane Irma. There is noticeable tree damage in one particular spot, however, seen from the main entry road, the result of tornado activity .
The National Weather Service (NWS), Jacksonville, confirmed tornado activity in Fort Clinch State Park on Sept. 11, 2017 between 2:25 am to 2:35 am. The NWS public information statement issued September 18, 2017 indicated the stronger of two tornadoes was rated “high-end EF1 damage” with estimated peak wind of 100-110 MPH. Both tornadoes may have begun as water spouts. This area along the main entry road, is pictured below.
Some locals may know this exact spot where two towering pines flanked the road, but sadly, no more. One of the big pines lays on the ground cut into pieces. Fresh sap seeped and glistened like diamonds in the morning light. Its companion pine across the road was also damaged, as were nearby oaks. A cedar scent was in the air near the remains of a few big coastal reds, also cut into pieces.
Beautiful Tree Canopy
The drive into the park is lovely, through maritime forest full of moss-draped oaks, pines and palmettos, cedars and Southern magnolias. Shade is a welcomed commodity on a hot, sunny day in Florida. Fort Clinch is the place to find it along a paved island roadway, perfect for bike riding.
Pedal leisurely under marvelous tree canopy offering shade along the 3-mile long entry road (from gate to the fortress area). Note that bicycles can be rented at the Fort Clinch Visitors’ Center. For skilled mountain bike riders, there are biking trails through the woods (but some were temporarily closed after Irma).
Wander along miles of beachfront in this State Park seeking shells or shark teeth while enjoying the amazing waterfront vistas. Visitors a few days after Irma saw an unusual sight on the beach. Churning waters had barfed a buoy onto the shore just south of the jetty at Fort Clinch.
Beached Buoy Near Jetty
This was a huge buoy (possibly one that formerly floated out at the end of the jetty). Another similar buoy washed ashore near Sliders at Seaside Park (heavy machinery was required for removal).
Irma sent waves and storm surge into the island, eating away beach sand and eroding dunes in Fort Clinch State Park and elsewhere along Amelia Island’s 13 mile shoreline. The area just south of the jetty and turning the corner at the Atlantic shoreline, pictured above, has a flatter look now from storm surge and loss of sand. Along the dunes, the roots of sea oats are exposed.
At regular intervals the St. Marys Inlet (between Amelia Island and Cumberland Island) undergoes maintenance dredging of the maritime channel by the Army Corp of Engineers. Sand from the inlet is pumped onto the shoreline, part of a beach renourishment process. This occurred at Fort Clinch State Park and along miles of Amelia Island’s shoreline early in 2017 (pipeline photo below taken March 2017). Thus, sand was put back onto the beaches after October 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, unfortunately to be taken by Irma in September 2017. Some sand washed away by storms is returned back to the beach in other spots over time by currents and tides.
You can’t beat the views along the Cumberland Sound and Amelia River at Fort Clinch. Coastal camping here is a wonderful experience! While the coveted campgrounds were temporarily closed after Irma, they reopened within a week. The spot pictured below in the riverfront campground is a perfect place to relax and watch activity on the water — from multi-million dollar yachts to kayakers, shrimp boats, and small pleasure craft. The park also offers a small oceanfront campground. There’s one unfortunate thing about Fort Clinch camping these days. With the campground extremely popular, high demand means it’s much harder to get a campsite.
Top Annual Event
The biggest annual event happens at Fort Clinch in November around Veterans Day every year, a wonderful tribute, “The History of the American Solider,” happening in 2017 on Sat., November 11th from 9 am to 5 pm.
Fort Clinch Entry Fees
The entrance to Fort Clinch is located at 2601 Atlantic Ave., in Fernandina Beach, FL 32034. Questions? Call Fort Clinch at 904-277-7274. Admission Fees in 2017: $6 per vehicle (limit 2-8 people per vehicle, $4 single occupant). Touring the fortress is an additional $2.50 per person. Those who ride a bike into the State Park are charged $2 at entry gate. The Florida State Park property is open daily from 8 am to sundown. The Fortress is open daily for self-guided tours from 9 am to 5 pm (with at least one reenactor on the premises). Special living history productions happen the first weekend every month when a group of reenactors present soldier life. Most of the Garrisons are Union, but twice a year it’s a Confederate Garrison.