All About the Fort!

HIstorical Fort matanzas: Where history and nature converge

a JOURNEY THROUGH hISTORY

Nature Trails & Ferry Rides

Nestled in the picturesque city of St. Augustine, Florida, Fort Matanzas National Monument stands as a testament to the region’s rich history and vibrant natural beauty. Built in 1742 by the Spanish, the fort served as a critical defense post, guarding the southern river approach to St. Augustine against the British encroachment. This coquina stone fortification, perched on Rattlesnake Island has been a silent guardian of the Matanzas Inlet for centuries. Never seeing a true battle and only ever firing warning shots. Today, Fort Matanzas offers visitors a unique glimpse into the past while providing an immersive natural experience. This include the occasional firing of the cannons at the fort! Be sure to check it out June 22, 2024!

Visitors to Fort Matanzas can enjoy a variety of activities, including exploring its scenic nature trails. These trails meander through coastal dunes, maritime forests, and salt marshes, offering a serene backdrop for bird watching (and birding) and wildlife observation. Additionally, the park offers a free ferry ride to the fort. Rangers specialized in interpretation offer a quick history of the Matanzas river along the way. This short but scenic trip offers spectacular views of the fort and its surrounding landscape, making it a highlight for many visitors. When arriving at the fort, interpretive rangers talk to the visitors about the history of fort and how it got its name.

Local Flora & Fauna

Fort Matanzas is not only a historical gem but also a haven for a diverse array of wildlife. Aquatic animals like manatees, spotted eagle rays, and dolphins can often be seen from the ferry rides and occasionally from the top of the fort itself. Terrestrial animals such as the pygmy rattlesnake, marsh rabbits, and bobcats can also be spotted in the park from time to time. The park’s coastal and dune habitats support numerous species, each playing a vital role in the local ecosystem.

 

Ranger holding mouse caught in live trap for tracking purposes
Least tern nest with adult tern and chick
Gopher tortoise in the sun

One of the park’s most essential residents is the Anastasia beach mouse. This small nocturnal rodent is native to only Anastasia Island and thrives in the coastal dunes, where it burrows and feeds on native vegetation, insects, and seeds. Sometimes these mice take advantage of old ghost crab burrows and repurpose them as their own. This endemic mouse plays a crucial role in helping disperse seeds and maintaining the health of this fragile and eroding ecosystem. They also play a critical role in the dispersion of sea oat seeds which allows for dune stabilization. Keeping the dunes healthy help us by preventing further beach erosion from storms. 

The least terns, small migratory birds, also find a home in the park. Known for their distinctive black caps, sharp calls and yellow bills, these birds nest on sandy beaches, creating shallow scrapes in the sand to lay their eggs. Least terns are a protected species, and their presence in Fort Matanzas underscores the importance of protecting the dunes. Just this season about 50 nests have been spotted on the dunes of the inlet. But be careful not to get too close to their nests, as they will fly towards any threat and potentially dive bomb you. 

Perhaps the most charming inhabitants of Fort Matanzas are the gopher tortoises, which can be spotted slowly making their way through the park. While they seem like slow creatures, they can move quite fast and are known to dart into their burrows backwards at times. They can dig extensive burrows, some being 40 ft long and 10 ft wide. These burrows also provide shelter to a myriad of other species, including snakes (Eastern Indigo Snake), frogs, and small mammals. They are considered to be a keynote species due to their burrows also being havens for other critters. If visiting the park, make sure to check under your car before leaving as sometimes they like the shade the car provides.

Loggerhead sea turtle on shore

Moreover, the waters surrounding Fort Matanzas are critical nesting grounds for both green and loggerhead sea turtles. Loggerhead sea turtles account for about 95-98% of nest in the county of St. Johns, whereas, green sea turtles account for about 3-5% of nests. Leatherbacks rarely arrive on these shores but its not to say that they never do. These majestic sea creatures return to the beaches each year to lay their eggs, continuing a life cycle that has persisted for millions of years. Conservation efforts in the park help protect these vulnerable species and ensure their survival for future generations. Here at the fort, we do daily early morning “Turtle Patrol” that check the beaches for any signs of turtle nests. If a nest is found posts are put around the perimeter of the nest to deter any humans from disturbing the site. As of June 8th, there have been no reported turtle nests along the park. However, just a few miles up the coast to Crescent beach, there have been at lease 100 reported nests.

A Place For Everyone

Fort Matanzas National Monument offers a unique blend of historical intrigue and natural splendor. Whether you’re a history buff, nature enthusiast, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, this park provides an enriching experience that celebrates the enduring spirit of St. Augustine’s past and vibrant life of its present ecosystem.

2 Comments
  • Ethan john Kilada
    Posted at 14:21h, 12 June Reply

    The fort looks like a great fishing spot!

    • Angelica Lara
      Posted at 13:40h, 17 June Reply

      It definitely is! Lots of sheepshead around the dock areas.

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