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lighthouse across the marsh
Photo Credit: guyonthego

Fort Clinch State Park

2601 Atlantic Avenue Fernandina Beach, Florida 32034
Park is open from 8:00am-sundown. Fort and museum are open 9:00am-5:00pm.
904-277-7274 3 hours
January 2012 All year
$0-9 Fernandina Beach Florida
Website Historical Forts
First review
Fort Clinch State Park is a 1,400 acre coastal park about a 45 minute drive from Jacksonville. The park is located on a peninsula and at the top of the peninsula is the main park attraction, Fort Clinch, a well preserved 19th century masonry fort. A small historical museum, gift shop, and snack bar/restaurant are nearby the fort. The park also has a large and wide ocean beach which is popular in summer. A developed campground is busier in cooler weather. There are a couple of hiking trails at the park too. Habitat types include hammock forests, tidal marshes, coastal dunes and grassy areas.

The main reason for a fort here was to protect the nearby deepwater port of Fernandina, which is located off the Cumberland Sound. Construction of the current masonry fort began in 1847. It as a Third System fortification and was one of many such forts built along the US coast. Fort Clinch was unfinished at the outbreak of the Civil War. It was quickly occupied but then soon abandoned by Confederate troops. Union forces arrived in 1862. They worked on finishing the fort till 1867 when construction ceased, and the fort was put into caretaker status. It was briefly reactivated as a battery during the Spanish American War. Florida purchased the property in 1935 for use as a state park. The Civilian Conservation Corps helped to restore and preserve the fort prior to World War II; during the war the fort was briefly reactivated as a patrol station. It reverted to park status after World War II.

Coming here in winter worked well as the weather was cool, bugs were absent, and the park was not crowded. It meant however that the ocean water was too cold for swimming. After chatting for a few minutes with a very pleasant staff member in the visitor center, it was off to see the museum and the fort. While the museum is small, it had informative displays and some artifacts, as well as a decent overview film premised on a Union soldier stationed here during the Civil War. The fort was empty except for a volunteer in period attire who was available to answer questions. There is generally a staff member or volunteer on duty everyday in the fort. On the first weekend of the month there is a larger Union garrison on hand to demonstrate various aspects of fort life. The fort was enjoyable to walk around and see various sections such as a blacksmith shop, bakery and soldier’s quarters. Unlike with other forts which have limited access, most of Fort Clinch was open. As for the rest of the park, there is a good view of a lighthouse across the marsh on the park road. Also, the Willow Pond Trail is a short but enjoyable path that meanders through the woods and past some ponds. It was an easy walk and relaxing. A longer multi-use trail parallels the main park road. The beach was wide and clean. A few people were shelling or fishing. It’s also a good place for a stroll. This park was an enjoyable place to visit but will mainly appeal to history buffs since the fort and museum are the main attractions. Note that mosquitoes are probably an issue on the trails in warmer weather. Also, the smell and site of nearby paper mills killed some of the allure for a beach visit. The park has a fairly active schedule of events such as candlelight tours and nature walks, check the park website for more information.
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