on the river

by kelly savage
As the heat begins to subside (we hope anyway), it’s time to get back outside and into the woods. In honor of Arbor Day (September 6th), let’s all visit the forest! There are many parks that offer a wooded escape along the St. Johns River and its tributaries.
River Events
International Coastal Clean Up

September 18th, 9 am-11 am. Help us clean up the St. Johns during this city-wide event! Let’s see how many pounds of garbage we can collect in two hours. See you there! St. Johns Riverkeeper Cleanup Sites: Hollybrook Park (319 Cherokee St. Jax, 32254), Northbank Riverwalk (YMCA), Wayne Stevens Boat Ramp (4555 Ortega Farms Blvd), more sites listed on coj.net.
Julington Creek Boat Trip
October 2nd, 10 am- Noon. Come aboard the Water Taxi for a guided boat tour and learn about the history, ecology and issues facing the river. We will travel along the St. Johns and head into Julington Creek to explore one of the river’s most important tributaries. Trips include hands-on activities for kids. Suggested donation: $17/adults, $7/children (under 12). Seats are limited, so reservations are required. For more information, contact [email protected]

Wooded Parks to Explore
Ravine Gardens State Park
1600 Twigg St. Palatka, FL 32177
Hours: 8 am- Sundown
Fees: $5 per vehicle (FREE September 10- 12, see below)
Amenities: bike paths, pavilions, picnic tables, playgrounds, restrooms, hiking, gardens
You don’t get to see much elevation in the state of Florida, and especially in the St. Johns River watershed, with the exception of this beautiful park. A small spring leading to the river is believed to have carved this deep ravine. As you drive in you will follow a small road down a steep slope. Along the way you will see bikers, hikers and families playing at playgrounds all tucked into the woods. When you make it to the bottom of the ravine you will feel like you arrived at a secret hidden garden with a natural pond, beautiful path and picnic area, and a walking bridge above it all!
Wildlife to Look For:
Ferns: Cinnamon, Resurrection and Royal Osmunda cinnamomea, Pleopeltis polypodioides, Osmunda regalis. You can see all three of these ferns right next to each other! Can you point them out? Check page 135 of our guidebook, Get Your Feet Wet, to read up on these ferns.
Southern Water Snake (Florida Banded Water Snake) Nerodia fasciata pictiventris: I saw one of these snakes swimming in the pond, and it was wonderful to observe a snake in the wild and from a safe distance! These brown/black snakes are non-venomous and feed on fish, salamanders and frogs.

Fort Caroline National Memorial & Visitors Center
12713 Fort Caroline Rd. Jacksonville, Fl 32214
Fees: see below
Amenities: canoe/kayak launch, picnic tables, restrooms, hiking, museum
I learned so much about Jacksonville history at this park. When you walk into the Visitors Center you are taken through an exhibit that showcases the rich history and ecology of the area. Park staff is also available to answer questions and there’s a bookstore to browse. As you make your way through the shaded trails towards the fort, a replica of a Timacuan hut invites you to investigate further. The fort is a replica, which was built to 1/3 of the scale and based on a drawing in 1964, taking you back in time.
Wildlife to Look For:
Osprey Pandion haliaetus: This is one of my favorite birds on the river. With its distinct call, you can spot them flying over the river looking for fish. If you are lucky, you may even see one grab a fish and fly away with it in its clutches!
Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates: Stand at the overlook area, and you are sure to see grey fins swimming by. Pods of dolphins come into the river to fish.

About Shannon Blankinship

Shannon Blankinship is the Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper and contributes regularly via the “On The River” column building awareness for the many issues that impact the St. Johns River. Shannon received her B.S. from Purdue University in Natural Resources Economics and Policy and her J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She is currently an elected official in Duval County serving on the Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a board member for the local nonprofit The Girls Gone Green and regularly contributes articles affecting animals and health. She is a Springfield resident and works to promote all things great in the urban core neighborhoods.

april, 2022