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Turtle Walk with Grandchildren & More

Turtle Walk with Grandchildren & More

When I go to book presentations and signings for “50 Great Walks in Florida” the most asked question is: “What is your favorite walk?”

Each one is different. I love them all. As proof, I’d do them all again in a heartbeat. I did 80 walks and the 50 great ones made the cut.

But I always do ask the audience if they have children and grandchildren. Do you? If the answer is “yes” then open your 50 Great Walks to Chapter 30: Guided Nighttime Turtle Walk, Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, Vero Beach.

A nighttime turtle walk will make memories for grandchildren

June and July are nesting season for loggerhead turtles. Starting May 15 at 8 a.m. Sebastian Inlet State Park will begin taking reservations for June walks. Be sitting by the phone. These spots go fast. July’s reservations will be taken starting June 15 at 8 a.m. The number is 772-388-2750.

Another choice: Sea World @ Vero Beach. They too start taking reservations on May 15 at 8 a.m. for June. The phone number is the same 772-388-2750.

Why this walk? Two reasons: I am often asked “What is there to do in the summer in Florida”. Here’s an answer. And, while you may or may not see a turtle laying eggs the night you go, if you do it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Your evening starts late, after dark, with a movie about turtles then patrols go on the beach looking for nesting loggerheads. If they find one, you all walk down the beach to the site. (My recommendation: do not wear flip-flops).

On our nighttime walk, we went to a turtle laying eggs and stood behind her. The children were asked to come up close, get down on the sand and watch her lay eggs, something turtles have done for millions of years. I stood in the back with the adults and I’m not ashamed to say, I cried. It was beautiful, ancient, moving and solid proof that everything on Mother Earth is connected. What we do matters, like not throwing plastic bags on the beach or in the water. A turtle might eat it (looks like a jellyfish) and die of starvation as the plastic stays in their stomach.

Memorial Day weekend happens in May and the weekend is well displayed at Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach. They have a World War II Event from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 23 and from 9 a.m. to noon on Sunday May 24. Featured are military displays and memorabilia of the Allies, Axis and Home front.

Getting ready for guided Willow Pond Walk at Fort Clinch State Park
Getting ready for guided Willow Pond Walk at Fort Clinch State Park

Stay and do the two walks in 50 Great Walks – Ch. 11: A Stroll Through History: The Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach Centre Street Stroll (whew! That’s a mouthful) and Ch. 12: Nature’s Classroom: Willow Pond Nature Trail, Fort Clinch State Park.

mural in DeLand
mural in DeLand

Finish up May in beautiful DeLand (Ch. 25: Painted History Walk).

On Saturday, May 30 there is a nature hike at Bicentennial Youth Park about reading skulls and bones of animals. Gregg Thompson, biologist and naturalist, will share his extensive skull collection. Cool! Call 386-668-5553.

So, now you know my confession – I cry in the face of beauty and it is not just with turtles. Want to see something beautiful? Bok Tower Gardens near Lake Wales redesigned their Web site and it is a thing of beauty, especially the photographs. Take a look at Bok Tower Gardens.

Lucy Beebe Tobias is the author of “50 Great Walks in Florida” and the Authentic Florida Expert for VISIT FLORIDA.


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Civil War Reenactors Storm Fort Clinch

Civil War Reenactors Storm Fort Clinch

The Confederates held Fort Clinch in Fernandina Beach when the Civil War started. Union troops took it over when General Robert E. Lee ordered a withdrawal a year later. That was 146 years ago.

The fort still keeps changing hands, especially on weekends. The first full weekend of month living historians reenact the Union Garrison. Fort Clinch rings with the sound of artillery demonstrations, drills on the parade ground with soldiers and horses, medical demonstrations and daily life in the barracks, kitchen and carpentry shop.

Civil War Reenactors take over Fort Clinch

Civil War Reenactors - Union soldier
Union soldier taking a break as a student makes notes for a class field trip.

Civil War reenactors speak the language of the period, refer to Mr. Lincoln our President and share a bit about themselves. Not who they are now in the 21st century but a portrait of who they were then. What the living historians are sharing is real. They have read letters from soldiers to loved ones back home, know the names of men actually stationed here and weave their stories together.

Imagine life in a fort in the 1800s. Soldiers wore wool uniforms in blazing heat. Mosquitoes were an enemy that could not be defeated. Every day more bricks were added to the walls. You can see the colors of brick change as the walls get higher and the bricks arrived from different locations.

Gun slit on the lower level of Fort Clinch State Park
Gun slit on the lower level of Fort Clinch State Park

Coming up on the first weekend in December (Dec. 6 and 7) is the special Union Holiday Encampment weekend. In addition to the regular garrison demonstrations there will be a Christmas tree decorated with hand-made period decorations.

Civil War Reenactors trade places – Confederates & Union soldiers

Confederate Garrisons, also Civil War reenactors, take over the fort on different weekends but not on a regular basis. The schedule for all garrison weekends is on the Fort Clinch State Park Web site (http://www.floridastateparks.org/fortclinch/). Look under “Special Events.”

Civil War reenactors Horse drill on the parade ground at Fort Clinch State Park.
Horse drill on the parade ground at Fort Clinch State Park.

Hours for all garrison weekends are Saturday from 9-5 and Sunday from 9-12. Admission to the park is $5 per carload up to eight people plus $2 per person for Fort admission.

If you can stay overnight, consider going back to the Fort for a candlelight viewing, truly a memorable experience. Forget electricity. They didn’t have it. Civil War reenactors and park rangers recreate life in the fort by candlelight. Visitors are asked to off your cell phones and leave flash photography off, a request made to preserve the 1864 atmosphere. For more details, call (904) 277-7274.

Candlelight viewing takes place the first Saturday evening of each month except December. Times vary with sunset. Admission to candlelight viewing is $3 per person.

Fort Clinch State Park is located at the northern tip of Amelia Island. The park has two camping areas, one near the Atlantic Ocean beach and the other in a wooded area near Amelia River.

Ancient live oak trees on the road to Fort Clinch
Ancient live oak trees on the road to Fort Clinch

For bikers there are 3.3 miles of paved roads meandering under ancient live oak tree.
A beach area and fishing pier get frequent use.

At the fort entrance a new Welcome Center has historic exhibits and a gift shop.

If you like to step back in time with living history and go to a park the whole family will enjoy, Fort Clinch on the first weekend of the month is the place to be.

Photos and text©2008 Lucy Beebe Tobias.

Lucy Beebe Tobias is the author of “50 Great Walks in Florida” and the Authentic Florida Expert for VISIT FLORIDA.


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Lessons Learned from Stranded Starfish

Lessons Learned from Stranded Starfish

Note: This is a true story

Starfish were the last thing on my mind as I began my beach walk. My footsteps made no sound on the fog-shrouded beach. I searched the sand for telltale signs of tracks leading out of the water towards the sand dunes. The ones I wanted to see are flat in the middle with indentations on the sides- tracks a female loggerhead turtle makes when she drags herself out the water ever so slowly.

An ancient song heard only by sea turtles makes her leave the buoyant security of water and go ashore to lay eggs. But this morning the beach is bare. I am disappointed. My volunteer job here in Fernandina  Beach  is to walk the beach three times a week, looking for tracks, then call the Turtle Patrol folks if I find them. They will mark the nests and try to ensure the baby turtles make it safely down to the water.

Three times a week I walk a mile, turn around, go back one mile to my car, head home, shower, change and go to work as a newspaper reporter. I love walking the beach to start the day, even on a fog-shrouded morning. This morning it feels like I’ve walked a mile but I can’t see my usual landmarks.

Starfish have a lesson for me

Then I look down one last time and there they are. Hundreds of baby starfish, their little arms silently waving in the air, lie stranded above the tide line. It is a shocking surprise for an early morning walker.

I bend over, pick up several small starfish and throw them into the water. This goes on and on until finally my arms give up and refuse to work. I sink down on my knees, crying.

“I can’t save you all,” I sob. Their little arms wave in the air, pleading. To be left stranded on the sand is sure death when the sun rises. But there are hundreds of them and only one of me.

Finally, I stand up, two big indentations in the sand where I knelt. I turn away and begin slowly walking back to my car, my eyes fogged with tears. By the time I reached for the car door handle, I’d learned something about myself and made a decision.

As a new reporter, a career I started in my 40s, I was trying to save them all. All the lost and almost lost causes – the people who had no homes, the children who had no voice, the animals put to death because of irresponsible owners. Oh yes, I wanted to save them all.

But I couldn’t. The fact is each one of us is gifted with a certain amount of energy. We need to make good choices with this gift, learn to say “no” as well as “yes” and use that energy wisely so it is effective. And we need to increase energy by partnering with others.

The decision? I knew I’d be leaving Fernandina Beach, a place I deeply loved, because I needed to focus on being an environmental reporter and this was not a possibility with the general assignment job I currently had.

Starfish experience leads to a new job

Three months after the starfish experience I accepted a job at another paper, the Ocala Star Banner, and within two years did a stint as an environmental reporter. Did I forget the starfish? Never.

About a year later I heard the often-told tale, fable or real story (who knows?), of a man who walks on a beach, sees lots of stranded starfish and a small boy who is throwing one back in the water. The man asks what difference that will make and the boy answers “It makes a difference to the one I threw back.”

Sometimes an everyday experience like walking on a beach can be life changing. This was one of those times. I’m still trying to make good use of the gift of energy. Every day I do know you can’t save them all but you can make a huge difference for a few. Go for it.

©2008 Lucy Beebe Tobias. All rights reserved. Lucy is a Florida environmental writer living in Ocala.

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