Trail use has become very popular for a wide variety of users. Some trails are designated as nature trails, and are used by people learning about the natural world. Many trails are designated day trails, meaning that they are generally used by people out for a short hike, less than a day. Some trails are designated backpacking trails, or long-distance trails, and are used by both day hikers and by backpackers. Some of the trails are over a thousand miles (1,500 km) long and may be hiked in sections by backpackers, or completed in one trip by dedicated hikers. Some trails are specifically used by other outdoor enthusiasts to gain access to another feature, such as good climbing sites. Many runners also favor running on trails rather than pavement, as giving a more vigorous work-out and better developing agility skills, as well as providing a more pleasant exercise environment.
Remembering that nature can be found in many forms and many places, the historic downtown Fernandina Beach offers a myriad of choices, both for nature and for man-made offerings. Along the docks of the downtown marina, manatees are visitors to see but not touch. Their presence brings a sense of joy, but people are encouraged not to beckon to them for the safety of the manatee. For walkers, Fernandina Beach was one of Florida’s earliest walk-about resort towns and remains one of its most attractive. Its graceful architecture, harbor and river views, port activity, and open attitude toward wildlife allow the naturalist and the nature lover to enjoy its downtown areas.
To the nature lover, Amelia Island’s beaches, marshes, greenway, and maritime forests provide an amazing array of wildlife, plant life, and sea life. With more than 12 miles of pristine beach, the nature fan – or fanatic – can choose swimming, surfing, fishing, jogging, kite flying, or beach combing. Finding SOMETHING to do on Amelia's beautiful beaches is not a problem. South Fletcher Avenue (Highway A1A) is the main beach road. It runs north and south along the east side of the island, and the city of Fernandina Beach provides more than more than 25 public access points along the beach. With ample parking, these access points offer boardwalks across the dunes or mere steps across the sand to access the beach. The beach is an excellent place for sharks teeth and shell collecting, especially after a period of rough weather. Dogs are allowed on the beach, but within the Fernandina Beach city limits, all dogs on the beach must be on a leash.
These pristine beaches are located a mile from the center of town. Over the four miles of beach with more than 20 public access points lie between the northern-most Main Beach south. Main Beach, with its plentiful parking and facilities, grassy playground and lifeguard stands is especially popular with families and children. When Main Beach starts to fill up, the city of Fernandina Beach also offers parking and services at Seaside Park and North Beach Park. The county has good facilities at Peter’s Point, a few miles south on Fletcher Avenue.
The City of Fernandina Beach has retained its exceptional natural resources for its residents and visitors. Both the City and the Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsor a myriad of festivals, events and leisure activities. One of these events, Wild Amelia is a festival that celebrates nature in, on and around Amelia Island. The Chamber Music Festival takes place in a number of indoor and outdoor venues, including Central Park and Fort Clinch. Sounds on Centre is a music celebration on Friday nights in the summer. The City’s excellent golf course and marina also provide numerous nature-enjoying opportunities on the island. Each of the state parks offers educational nature programs; a local scuba shop offers training and equipment for diving off the coast, and an unexpected nature center at Omni Amelia Island Plantation round out the educational nature offerings.
The Nature Center at Omni Amelia Island Plantation offers bicycle, segway and kayak tours with master naturalists who know and share an unparalleled array of information about birds, turtles, edible plants, night creatures and crabs. Several tours are designed for children and include educational crafts about the featured topic. The Nature Center is open to the public, and is staffed by master naturalists who are certified by the state of Florida in this nature-centric resort. The naturalists also offer walking and golf-cart ecology and birding tours. For bird watchers specifically, and according to W.B. Lawson, editor of Amelia Island Living, Amelia Island is especially interesting in and around the Egans Creek Greenway and its preserve. As the gateway to the East Florida Birding Trail, Amelia Island boasts the Great Blue Heron and more than 470 bird species.
Whether you are a seasoned bird watcher or a novice interested in a new hobby, the Amelia Island area is a wonderful place for exploring bird life. Florida is a "birder's paradise," with Florida reportedly offering the third largest number of different species of all the states in the U.S. The East Florida Birding Trail is part of a 2,000-mile trail that extends throughout the state, and Fort Clinch State Park in the gateway to that trail. The Florida Fish and Wildlife conservation Commission developed the Florida Birding Trail, together with the Audubon of Florida, the Florida Parks Service, and Visit Florida. Sites along the Birding Trail were selected for their “excellent bird watching or bird education opportunities,” according to Visit Florida.
Fort Clinch and other state parks offer maps of the birding trails maps, as do nature centers, and tourist development councils throughout the state. The birding trail maps describe which species to expect to find at each site along the trail, as well as regional information about local bird watching programs and calendar of events. Fort Clinch offers various habitats attracting many bird species, with its beaches, dunes, maritime hammock, salt marshes and rock jetty. It is one of the best locations in Florida for the purple sandpiper, seen during December and January at Fort Clinch’s jetty from the fishing pier. Our feathered friends abound on Amelia Island, and thrive in the area’s salt marshes. You’ll also have the opportunity to sight lots of other bird life around Amelia Island such as roseate spoonbills, white egrets, red-shouldered hawks, downy woodpeckers, purple martins, wood ducks, turkey vultures, belted kingfishers, Carolina wrens, red cardinals, blue jays, brown pelicans, wood storks, and owls. The North 14th Street bridge, part of Old Town which is the oldest part of Fernandina Beach and laid out by the Spanish, offers watch a spectacular sunset over Egans Creek. It is also a good location, depending on the time of year, to see whether an osprey or owl is nesting on top of the pole beside the bridge.
The large pink bird flying in the distance is not a flamingo, but is actually a roseate spoonbill. The large pink birds often arrive in flocks and seem to enjoy spending time in Egans Greenway on Amelia Island (the section of the Greenway located between Jasmine Street and Atlantic Avenue in Fernandina Beach). Egans Greenway Preserve on Amelia Island, with access points at Atlantic Avenue near the Fernandina Beach Recreation Center, and from Jasmine Street (between Citrona Avenue and South Fletcher), is another excellent place to catch glimpses of many coastal birds. Egrets, white ibis, the roseate spoonbills, osprey, and even American eagles, large owls, and woodpeckers visit frequently. It is a beautiful, peaceful setting where folks like to take nature hikes, ride bicycles, and take photos. In fact, professional photographers also visit often. In 2009, for the convenience of visitors to the Greenway, the City of Fernandina Beach built a new restroom facility at the entryway to the Greenway behind the Atlantic Avenue Recreation Center.
Located on the south end of the island, Amelia Island State Park (904) 251-2320 is the nesting grounds for a variety of shore birds, and offers a natural, quiet setting for observation. Watch the numerous bird species that feed in the area, and enjoy a beautiful setting on the more than 200 acres of wilderness along the southern tip of Amelia Island. Amelia Island State Park is the only state park in Florida to offer horseback riding on the beach — a 45-minute horseback riding tour through the forest and along the Atlantic Coast right on the beach with Kelly Seahorse Ranch. Another Amelia Island site on the Florida Birding Trail is Omni Amelia Island Plantation’s Nature Center (call 904-321-5082 for further information).
It is fun just to have your own backyard bird feeder and see who comes for breakfast or dinner. I like watching the red cardinals who come by daily, but this morning I had the delight of seeing a pretty painted bunting. Those bushy-tailed acrobats, however, are a constant nuisance at my bird feeder. For more about bird watching in Florida, also try visiting www.floridabirdingtrail.com (you can download the Northeast Florida birding guide from this site.) Just off the south end of Amelia Island, the Great Florida Birding Trail continues nearby with sites on Big Talbot and Little Talbot Islands.