By Hallie Stevens, Timucuan Trail Parks Foundation, Inc.
Dutton Island is really two Timucuan Trail parks: Dutton Island I (Dutton Island Preserve), managed by the City of Atlantic Beach and Dutton Island II (Dutton Island Park and Preserve expansion), managed by the City of Jacksonville. Both preserves consist of unspoiled salt marsh, pine flat woods, scrub, and live oak hammocks. The western edge of Dutton Island I is bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway.
Eagles are commonly seen while fishing on the pier at the north end of the island. A curiosity at Dutton Island II are the random birdhouses along the hiking trails, high up in the trees. Dutton Island II also sports six geocache locations which can be found on www.geocaching.com.
The oldest known coastal village site on the American eastern seaboard is Spencer’s Midden, just north of Dutton Island. Radiocarbon dating indicates the site was occupied 5500 years ago. The villagers harvested oysters, coquina, small estuarine fish, and deer.
Radiocarbon dating indicates the site was occupied 5500 years ago.
According to the sign at the entrance to Dutton Island I, “the original owner with a royal claim…(to the area that is now Dutton Island)…was Don Bartolome de Castro y Ferrar who was born in Spain in 1760 and came to live in St. Augustine. He was awarded a 2,000 acre Spanish Land Grant in 1826 in return for 24 years’ work there. Dutton Island was in the grant’s northwest corner which included much of today’s Atlantic, Neptune, and Jacksonville Beaches.”
The marshes and islands were once part of a proposed development in 1925 called Ilanda, a prototypical development of the Florida real estate boom. The late Florida Times-Union columnist Bill Foley described Ilanda as “Water and marsh and darkened land, with only distant twinkling lights under the stars, still a notch and a blink away from total civilization, a last blank blotch at the Beach. Once the dreamer’s eye saw there at Atlantic Boulevard and the Intracoastal Waterway a modern Venice, with a Moorish touch, a tad of Byzantine, perhaps, the odd daub of Gee Whiz.”
Envisioned but never built, Ilanda gave way to suburban development that included a platted and approved housing development on the mainland fronting Dutton Island. In 2000, the City of Jacksonville acquired a 98-acre tract slated for single-family residences just as the bulldozers were literally ready to raze the site.
Dutton Island I
Dutton Island I offers numerous scenic and water-based recreational opportunities: approximately 1.7 miles of nature trails for biking or hiking, one large picnic pavilion and several smaller picnic pavilions, restrooms, and two primitive camping areas. To reserve a primitive campsite, contact City of Atlantic Beach at 904-247-5828. For enjoyment of the coastal environment, there are several salt marsh and wildlife observation overlooks, a fishing/viewing pier, and a canoe/kayak launch and floating dock.
Bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway, there are miles of winding tributaries and pristine estuary to explore by kayak or canoe. A marked kayak trail offers the potential to see osprey, bald eagles, herons, wood storks, and other resident and migratory birds. You may also encounter dolphins and manatees.
It is also a great spot for fishing. A kiosk at the pier reports red drum, sand sea trout, black drum, sheepshead, spotted sea trout, and flounder to be the most frequently caught fish. A saltwater fishing license is needed for those over the age of 16.
Dutton Island II
Dutton Island II has a 1.4 mile hard-packed hiking trail loop, ADA accessible picnic tables, and two overlooks with benches. A kayak landing is located near the north end of the loop, about 0.5 miles from the trailhead.
If you plan to kayak or canoe, be mindful of the tides. Some of the waterways leading to launch points become dry during low tides, and paddlers may become stranded until the tide comes in again. Strong currents and/or heavy boat traffic are common in the Intracoastal Waterway itself, so be careful! The best time to visit the park is September through April when the flying insects are less of a nuisance.
Both Dutton Island I and II are located on Dutton Island Drive, west of Mayport Road in Atlantic Beach. Dutton Island II is located at 793 Dutton Island Drive West. Dutton Island I is approx. 0.2 miles west of Dutton Island II. Take the causeway (which offers spectacular views of the salt marsh) to Dutton Island I. There’s a small parking lot at the entrance to the preserve, but you can easily drive onto the island. Parking is available at both ends of the island.
Sunrise until dusk. Summer hours are 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.