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"Established in 1988, this 46,000-acre preserve includes Fort Caroline National Memorial, 
the Theodore Roosevelt Area, Kingsley Plantation, Cedar Point, and thousands of acres 
of woods, water, and salt marsh. These diverse natural and human stories come alive where
the Nassau and St. Johns rivers flow into the Atlantic Ocean -- where the waters meet."
~ from the National Park Service brochure for the Timucuan Preserve

When we saw on the Jacksonville map that there was a nature preserve with an historic fort near the Mayport Naval Station we knew we had to visit one day while we were here.

There are two units in the Timucuan (TIM-a-kwan) Ecological and Historic Preserve, shown below. The southern unit borders the St. Johns River and includes a National Park Service visitor center, a one-third size replica of Fort Caroline, and the Theodore Roosevelt natural area:

Many more acres are on the northern side of the river and include the Kingsley Plantation and visitor center, the Ribault Club visitor center, Cedar Point Park, and thousands of acres of watery salt marsh where visitors can fish and kayak.

So far we've just visited the southern unit with the fort, which is open for self-tours every day except a few holidays.

We'll have to check out the northern unit of the preserve on our next stay to Mayport at the beginning of March. Tours of the house at Kingsley Plantation are quite limited -- only twelve people at a time and only at 11 AM and 2 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. We need to make advanced reservations for that.


Our first stop was the National Park Service's visitor center near the site of historic Fort Caroline so we could get a map and brochure about the preserve. There is no cost to visit the national memorial or Theodore Roosevelt area in the southern unit.

The visitor center has exhibits and lots of historical information about the early Native Americans and French colonists who populated this area of northern Florida.


For at least 12,000 years native peoples depended on the rich natural resources of the St. Johns estuary; the forests and marshlands provided an abundance of building materials and food.

Although no shelters have withstood the elements all these years, discarded oyster and clam shells that were piled into mounds for thousands of years by pre-Columbian inhabitants are scattered throughout the preserve on both sides of the river, indicating seafood was a dietary staple for these early inhabitants.

It still is for many local residents in the 21st century.

The Indians who made contact with the first European arrivals to the area in the mid-1500s are now known collectively as the Timucua (TIM-a-kwa). Their civilization can be traced back approximately 6,000 years. Although there were some cultural differences between the tribes they all spoke a common language.

The native groups appear to have gotten along better than all the outsiders who fought over northern Florida beginning in the mid-1500s.

The French, Spanish, English, African Americans, and Americans have all had an influence in this area. Settlements, earthworks, forts, and plantations chronicle centuries of both the assimilation and the strife of various cultures in this corner of northeast Florida.

The first European settlers were the French, who arrived in 1562 and established a colony two years later. The Timucua offered food and even helped the newcomers build Fort Caroline.

Spain soon declared that the French were trespassing on Spanish territory. In 1565 they defeated the French and massacred most of the fort's defenders, sparing the ones who declared they were Catholic. "La Florida" remained in Spanish hands for the next 200 years.

This was not good for the Timucuan culture or health. These native peoples didn't survive European contact for very long.

Not only did the Spanish impose their own culture, including religious beliefs, on the native population, the Indians had no immunity to the new diseases the Europeans brought with them. Only 550 Timucua were recorded in 1698; the population had once numbered in the tens of thousands. No known indigenous people now call themselves Timucua.


Jean Ribault was the first French explorer to discover the St. Johns River. His corps erected a stone marker in the area, then sailed north.

You can continue driving a mile or two east on Fort Caroline Road to see a replica of the stone column erected by Ribault in 1562:


Two years later another French expeditionary force led by Rene d Laudonnire established a colony a mile or two upstream from the Ribault Monument.

The 300 colonists were mostly Huguenot noblemen, soldiers, artisans and their families. They named their colony "La Caroline" in honor of King Charles IX. The Timucua helped them build a triangular fort for protection.

Section of an interpretive panel at the fort

The hopes and dreams of the French Protestants, who were fleeing persecution from Catholics in their homeland, were short-lived. As mentioned above, the fort and colony were soon overrun by the Spanish, who were mostly Catholic. Most of the French colonists were murdered.

Although the French recaptured the fort in 1568, they never attempted to colonize this area again.

A one-third size replica of the fort has been reconstructed from early engravings and descriptions to show modern visitors what the original fort was like. It is located a half-mile walk along the river and through a live oak forest from the visitor center.

There are several interpretive panels along this trail and other things to see along the way:


Timucua hut replica and real shell mound

Jim walks out to a boat dock along the way. There are signs warning boaters to be careful
not to harm the Florida manatees swimming in the river. They are an endangered species.


Entrance to fort replica

Interpretive panels describe life at the fort in 1564-5.

View of the St. Johns River

This is an interesting place for history buffs and nature lovers of all ages.

If you want to walk farther you can return to the visitor center parking area via a loop trail:

If you want to walk even further than that, continue on to the Theodore Roosevelt natural area. See map below.


This 600-acre nature preserve located near Fort Caroline was owned by the Browne family from 1889 to 1969 as a refuge from city living. The two sons of the original owner lived very simply off the land and water.

The last survivor, Willie Browne, was an admirer of President Theodore Roosevelt and his conservation efforts. Browne donated his land to The Nature Conservancy in 1969, a year before his death. The National Park Service acquired the property in 1990 as part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.

Here's a more detailed map showing the trails through this natural area:

Visitors can access this part of the preserve from trails near the visitor center or parking at the south end of the unit on Mount Pleasant Road.

On the way to the nature preserve the trail from the visitor center passes Spanish Pond. I took these pictures at and near the trailhead parking area off Fort Caroline Road near the visitor center:


I didn't go far enough back as far as the pond this time.

Trails and boardwalks wind through a variety of habitats including live oak forest hammock, scrub vegetation, freshwater swamp, and salt marsh. A "shell peninsula" contains mounds of oyster and clam shells left over from thousands of years of pre-Columbian and Timucua Indian habitation. Numerous birds and animals live in the preserve, including ospreys, great blue herons, snowy egrets, bald eagles, alligators, dolphins, bobcats, tortoises, and many other species.

We'd like to come back here in March and hike on some of the trails. Only one is open to bicycles. We also plan to visit Kingsley Plantation and the Ribault Club visitor center when we come back.

Next entryday trip farther north along the First Coast, including a fun ferry ride

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2013 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil