"Jacksonville's Fort Caroline Area" Fort Caroline by noidiotsplease
Fort Caroline Travel Guide: 0 reviews and 43 photos
Located in Eastern JACKSONVILLE, east of the State Road 9A beltway and north of Atlantic Blvd., is a collection of neighborhoods, parks and natural areas spread along the shores of Mill Cove, the St. Johns River, and the Intracoastal Waterway. Known by locals as the “Fort Caroline” or “East Arlington” area, this corner of Jacksonville is blessed with what I would argue to be some of the most beautiful nature in the state, and has the distinction of having been originally settled by the French back in 1564. It is also centrally located between the beaches (east), downtown and historic San Marco (west), St. Johns Town Center (south), and both the Jacksonville Zoo and Jacksonville International Airport (north).
Land of abundant nature
The area’s natural beauty stems from its unique blend of subtropical tree hammocks, low country wetlands, expansive water views, and even the presence of small hills and valleys. Here, middle and upper class neighborhoods age gracefully under a patchwork canopy of water oaks, palms, magnolias, pines and mimosas. Spanish moss drapes from jagged branches high above rooftops, while lush lawns show off a pageantry of azaleas, philodendrons, ligustrums, caladiums, ferns, sago palms, and even the occasional citrus tree. I first moved to the Fort Caroline area nearly a quarter century ago when I was in the fourth grade. It is in this same area of town that my wife and I are now raising our children. Of course, the tree canopy is but one dimension to this natural oasis.
Along Mill Cove and throughout the area near where the St. Johns meets the Intracoastal, tranquil streams carve serpentine patterns through wetland estuaries where herons, egrets, and pelicans inspect the marsh for tasty treats. One such stream, Jones Creek, winds its way from Mill Cove, under Fort Caroline Road, and past the Holly Oaks neighborhood, eventually through one of Jacksonville’s best natural gems – the Jacksonville Arboretum. Accessible from Monument Road, just east of the 9A Beltway, the Arboretum features four interconnected trails. Collectively, these trails circle around a central lake, meander past mighty oak trees, climb up bluffs, and provide foot bridges over streams and ravines. Extremely lush, the abundant foliage and underbrush remind one of a scene from Jurassic Park.
About halfway between Mill Cove and the Intracoastal, Fort Caroline’s third unique feature becomes most prominent. Here, where neighborhoods bear names like Hidden Hills, Beacon Hills, and The Valley, small hills and valleys actually take shape. The steepest of these hills can be found in Chasewood, near the entrance to Fort Caroline National Memorial. While the hills are not really that big by other state’s standards, they do add a little bit of topographical interest to what is otherwise a part of the coastal Florida flatlands.
The Fort Caroline area takes its name from Fort Caroline National Memorial, a historic site located on the south bank of the St. Johns River, about halfway between downtown and the beaches. Today, a replica fort stands in the approximate spot where French Huguenots established their base camp in 1564. But, wait ... wasn’t Florida Spanish? Here’s a quick history in about 75 words.
Juan Ponce de Leon first came ashore somewhere between present-day Jacksonville and SAINT AUGUSTINE back in 1513. He declared “La Florida” for the Spanish, but never established a permanent settlement. Jean Ribault and the French came and set up Fort Caroline in 1564. This angered Spain. In 1565, Spain sent Pedro Menendez to establish St. Augustine and drive out the French. Fort Caroline was sacked. Spain reclaimed its Florida holdings. St. Augustine has been inhabited ever since.
The site also includes another historical spot, the Ribault Monument. A replica of the marker Ribault built to commemorate France’s claim, the Ribault Monument is perched atop St. Johns Bluff, high above the St. Johns River, and surrounded by a viewing platform. From here visitors can see for miles over theriver and the flat wetlands of the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve, which stretch for miles throughout northeastern Jacksonville. Visitors can also see the ships at Naval Station Mayport, where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean.
While Fort Caroline and the Ribault Monument are the key historic sites that draw visitors, they are actually part of a larger natural attraction Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve, which is operated by the National Park Service. The NPS has a visitor center for both the fort and the preserve, just a short nature walk away from the fort. The visitor center houses a small museum of artifacts and even has a gift shop. Of course, what nature attraction would be complete without trails? Fort Caroline has its own trail loop that connects the fort, visitor center, and parking lot. A short hop down the road, however, is the Theodore Roosevelt Area. Basically, this is a collection of wild trails that meander through trees and overgrown brush. Be advised, that to walk the entire trail would take a considerable amount of time. I have never walked the whole trail myself. Admission to Fort Caroline, the Theodore Roosevelt Area, and the Timucuan Preserve is FREE. To get here, take Fort Caroline Road almost all the way to its eastern terminus. The Theodore Roosevelt Area is also accessible via Mount Pleasant Road.
Much of the Fort Caroline area’s waterfront is lined with private homes and neighborhoods, but there are a few good areas where a pedestrian or automotive explorer can stop for a view. The best areas are along Fort Caroline Road, where it skirts the south edge of Mill Cove. A couple of pull-off parallel parking spots and a sidewalk allow residents and visitors to get out, walk along the wetlands and get an awesome vantage point for taking photos of the striking Dames Point Bridge. Further down Fort Caroline to the east, visitors can turn onto Fulton Road, which passes several neighborhoods before ending at a boat ramp and mini river beach. Called Fulton Landing, this boat ramp is an awesome place to watch enormous cruise and cargo ships en route to and from the Port of Jacksonville pass right in front of your eyes. Of course, the fort and Ribault Monument also provide amazing river vistas.
For more multi-faceted recreational opportunities, Ed Austin Regional Park is a major draw for locals. This giant park offers a diversity of options for a diversity of age groups and interests. Key features include a disc golf course, a 1.5-mile paved walking and riding trail, baseball fields, football and soccer fields, a skateboard park, basketball courts, two playgrounds, and even a gymnasium – home to the Jacksonville Police Athletic League. Various youth soccer, football, and Little League teams can be seen playing here on weekends. Ed Austin Regional Park is accessible via Monument and McCormick Roads.
Last but not least, Fort Caroline also has its share of golf courses including Queen's Harbor Yacht & Country Club, Hidden Hills Country Club and Mill Cove Golf Course. Mill Cove Golf Course, open to the general public, is located on the property of Craig Airport, a general aviation airport that keeps busy with personal and charter aircraft fights.
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