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The French, the Spaniards, and a 6 Pounder Cannon!

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Typically on Labor Day weekend I fly down to Tampa, Florida for my annual Fantasy Football draft. It is a Labor Day saturday filled with tradition: a chartered fishing trip in the morning, the best ribs in the world for lunch, and the live draft in the evening.

While this day is always amazing, one downside is I don’t get to see my family for the last weekend of the summer! This year, we decided to do something different! Instead of flying down solo, my wife and I decided to drive the family down to Florida for the long holiday weekend. The plan was for me to do all my fantasy football draft festivities on saturday and then hit up some National Park sites with the family on sunday and monday.

After the kids got home from school thursday we piled into our brand new minivan (yay!) and drove all night (11 hours) to my in-laws house in Bradenton, Florida. The draft saturday went off without a hitch. I caught some fish, ate some ribs, and drafted this year’s Super Bowl champion team 😉

I planned our itinerary to leave early sunday morning from Bradenton and work our way up the eastern coast of Florida hitting a bunch of National Park sites along the way. The itinerary had the following sites:

Fort Mantanzas National Monument NP49
Castillo De San Marcos National Monument NP50
Fort Caroline National Memorial NP51
Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve NP52
Fort Frederica National Monument NP53

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Fort Mantanzas National Monument

I had read that there was a boat ride to get to the actual fort so I wanted to make sure we were there when the park opened at 9:00 AM. We left Bradenton at 5:45 AM and drove 3 1/2 hours to Fort Mantanzas National Monument. We got to the park at around 9:20 AM. This was very fortunate because the boats leave every hour on the half hour and we got there just in time for the 9:30 ferry!

We're on a boat! #NP49 #FindYourPark

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The ferry ride is short (less than 10 minutes) and is on very calm waters. e saw some pretty cool wildlife on the way including a giant osprey! When we got to the other side we heard a 10 minute history lesson and then spent about 25 minutes exploring the fort. The ferry tour lasted about 45 minutes from start to finish (including ferry time).

The cannon "San Pueblo" overlooking the water. #NP49 #FindYourPark

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Fort Mantanzas was used by the Spaniards to defend the southern river approach of St Augustine. There are some cool cannons, displays to show you the conditions the soldiers had inside the fort, and a great view from the top! It was a great start of our day!

Here’s what you need to know:

– It’s Free including the ferry ride
– Each ferry boat is limited to 35 people and the next hour’s tickets will not be distributed until the prior one departs. Go early! When we left around 10:30 there were people leaving after hearing they wouldn’t be able to tour until 12:30.
– There’s an 8 minute orientation video. This video is not too good compared to others but it gives you the basic info you need before seeing the fort.
– Bathrooms are outside near the parking lot
– The gift shop is small but has some pretty neat items specific to the site.
– The National Park Passport Cancellation Stamp location is at the bookstore which is also where you get your ferry boat tickets
– There is a nice nature trail but make sure you bring bug spray. We got eaten up big time.
– There are plenty of picnic areas and benches around the site.

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Castillo De San Marcos National Monument

When planning out the itinerary I noticed that Castillo De San Marcos National Monument was super close to Mantanzas (only 15 minutes) so it made it a no-brainer to continue up A1A to the next park. At least I thought it was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, one of the things I did not take into consideration was this weekend was the 450th Birthday Celebration of St Augustine which basically meant the entire city was jam-packed.

We drove to the fort and after circling the parking lot a couple of times looking for a spot decided to try a different parking lot. We even contemplated paying at a premium lot but everything was full. We were seriously worried that we wouldn’t be able to see this National park site. This was especially disappointing because this was going to be our 50th National Park site visit towards our goal of 100 visited by 2020. We also contemplated going in shifts but technically we needed all 5 of us to visit at the same time for it to count towards our goal.

NP # 50 for the Ng family!! #FindYourPark

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Not seeing any solution in sight, I dropped off my wife and kids to go and see it while I circled the lot. While this may not have truly counted towards our goal, I wanted to make sure the family got to see it. As luck would have it, after circling for another 15 minutes or so, I found a spot! I quickly paid at the Pay Station ($6 for 4 hours) and rushed in to catch up with the family.

#FindYourPark

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In my opinion, Castillo De San Marcos is worth the wait and the money ($10 entry fee for adults, 15 and younger is FREE). It cost Spain the equivalent of $35 million to build it in the 17th century. It is the oldest masonry and only extant 17th century fort in North America. While it isn’t as big as Fort Pulaski or Fort Sumter (both of which we have toured as a family in the past), it definitely has the best view!

This weapon was captured by the United States during the Spanish American War in 1898 #NP50 #FindYourPark

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Another benefit is we got to see 6 pounder cannons firing! Check out the video I took of the firing!

Here’s what you need to know:

– It costs $10 for adults (15 and under is FREE)
– Bathrooms are inside the fort
– There’s a pretty neat video presentation but it is not in an air conditioned room
– The gift shop is located to the left when entering the fort
– The National Park Passport Cancellation Stamp location is at the bookstore

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Fort Caroline National Memorial

I had booked a sunday night hotel room in Jacksonville, Florida so we decided to finish up our sunday visiting Fort Caroline National Monument. There are a number of interesting things about Fort Caroline. The first is it is not the actual fort.

#FindYourPark

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It is actually a reproduction at only about 1/3rd the size of the original. No one really knows where the fort actually used to be. It could possibly be somewhere under water right now. Because of this, the fort looks pretty new. Still, the experience is still great to learn from the displays and see the type of fort construction that was used by the French.

Junior Ranger-ing with @evigraceng at Fort Caroline National Memorial. #NP51 #FindYourPark

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The second interesting thing about Fort Caroline National Memorial is it located within another National park site called the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve. This preserve is 46,000 acres of mostly marshland. What this meant was we actually got to visit 2 National Park sites in one trip. This became National Park sites #51 and #52.

#FindYourPark

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It was interesting to visit Fort Caroline after Fort Mantanzas and Castillo De San Marcos because they are all related. In fact, after the French tried to attack Castillo De San Marcos during a hurricane, the Spaniards marched 3 days to invade and slaughter the French at Fort Caroline.

Here’s what you need to know:

– This park is FREE
– Bathrooms are attached to the Visitor’s Center
– There’s a nice exhibit at the Visitor’s Center that talks about the history of the Timucuan people and the land that the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve covers.
– The gift shop is located in the Visitor’s Center and has a sizeable selection including local glass items
– The National Park Passport Cancellation Stamp location is at the bookstore

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Tomorrow, we bring on the British!

Tomorrow, we hit up our last National Park site on this trip before driving back home. We are driving an hour north to visit Fort Frederica National Monument on St Simon’s Island in Georgia! Onward!

Gregory Ng

GOAL: Visit 100 National Parks as a family by 2020. Favorite Parks: Zion National Park, Mt Rainier National Park, Valley Forge National Historical Park

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