By Pat Foster-Turley
October 21, 2022
One recent Saturday, it was a beautiful day—sunny, clear, cool, no bugs. I’d had a busy week, full of friends and social times and what I really wanted this day was some time alone in the quiet of nature. But peace and quiet and alone time on Amelia Island on a weekend day is not that easy to find. On this day the Amelia Cruisers Car Club was having its annual event with Centre Street closed to other traffic. Scores of classic cars were parked along the street where hordes of people could admire them and the downtown farmers market was in full swing then too. Downtown was a great draw for locals and tourists alike but I’m not a car or crowd lover and I intended to stay far away from downtown. And, on Saturdays the Egans Creek Greenway can be busy with walkers and bike riders, and that was not what I wanted either. The beaches are also full of more people than I wished to see on this day. So, of course, it was Fort Clinch State Park I thought of first.
I drove along the main road of Fort Clinch to the fort itself and reveled in the lack of people there that morning—they must have all been downtown at the car show or on the beach. Perfect for me. But I had just barely left the fort parking lot when I heard a commotion of car engines and was astonished to see a whole line of vintage Volkswagens of all shapes, sizes and conditions, coming down the road towards me. I pulled over and activated my camera and caught a Volkswagen parade passing by. As one after another old Volkswagen Bugs passed by I thought fondly of my earliest days with Bucko, when he had a Bug that we drove around in, catching snakes in the Everglades and other fun activities during our time at Miami Seaquarium. And the old and restored VW vans evoked other memories of Bucko and my six-week-long zigzag drive across the U.S. from Miami to New York, to Texas, then north through the Rocky Mountains to Canada, and south along the coast to San Francisco where Bucko had a new job at Marine World. Those were the days.
It turns out this was the annual Buggies on the Beach event, that began at the Kraft Athletic Club with a “poker run” of cars headed to various spots in town and followed by an all-day Sunday car show, food trucks, etc. with all proceeds benefiting the Nassau Humane Society. This was not peaceful at all, with roaring engines and classic honking horns, but it was exciting and lots of fun to watch. But after, it was time for the peace and quiet I had headed to Fort Clinch State Park to experience, and I knew just the place to go—Willow Pond.
Sad to say it has been months since I last parked my car at the Willow Pond lot and ventured down its paths. In years gone by Carl Watson, a retired forester, led weekly nature tours there on Saturday mornings. Carl knew the paths and its attendant vegetation and wildlife intimately, and could find something interesting to point out every step of the way. Raccoon toilets on a bent tree truck, mushrooms hidden inside logs, various interesting insects, and lots of Indian lore about the use of native plants filled in an hour and a half tour quite nicely. On most Saturday mornings at 10:30 these days there are still volunteer-led tours but since Carl left I have never taken this tour again.
This morning there was no tour and I had the three-quarter-mile walk through Willow Pond all to myself—just what I was seeking. I savored the quiet and the fresh, clean air and walked happily on the dirt path under a canopy of live oaks, hickories, hollies and other hardwood trees—all surrounding a series of “borrow pit” ponds that were dug out when the roads were constructed. There are alligators in these ponds, but this day I only saw the signs warning about them and their paths across the trail, but I knew they were there. Here and there I sat on a conveniently placed bench and soaked in the peace and quiet, and watched small birds flitting through the underbrush, and squirrels jumping from branch to branch. It was just what I needed! And once again, Fort Clinch State Park made my day!
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]