National parks preserve and interpret both natural and historical resources of national significance. The goals of a national park can include both surrounding the visitor with natural beauty, and transporting the visitor back in time to a specific historical period. Sometimes these goals are one in the same when the historical event in question took place prior to large scale alteration of the natural scene by humans. This is the case at Fort Matanzas.
The national monument preserves the locations and tells the stories of two significant historical events: The slaughter of about 250 French colonists by Spanish colonists in 1565, and the construction of a coquina watchtower (fort), later named Matanzas, which was utilized by Spanish and British soldiers from 1740 to 1820. During these time periods, and well into Florida statehood, the area that became southern St. Johns County was largely undeveloped and natural in appearance. Large portions of it remain so to this day.
When visitors come to the park, travel by ferry to the fort, and listen to rangers explain the history of this place, to some extent they feel transported back in time. This is because as they look around they see a semblance of what the Spanish and British soldiers living here hundreds of years ago saw- a natural, undeveloped environment. Not entirely undeveloped, of course, but to the greatest extent practicable the National Park Service (NPS) maintains the 300 acre national monument as a natural preserve. This serves to benefit both native wildlife and natural processes, and to maintain the landscape as historically accurate as possible.
The NPS could not achieve this result on its own, however. (Seen from the top of the fort, 300 acres does not go very far!) Luckily, especially to the west of the park, much of the land has been set aside and is managed by other conservation agencies. Within sight of the fort are a state park, a state forest, two county parks, and lands and waters included in a national estuarine research reserve. To the east lies the unblemished Atlantic Ocean. In a state where coastal development has advanced at a rabid pace since the 1950s, Fort Matanzas is fortunate to feature scenic vistas all around it. These vistas are not only pleasing to look upon, but are essential to telling the park's story, as well as maintaining the populations of wildlife that wander beyond the park's borders.
Did You Know?
Did you know that the only source of fresh water for the soldiers at Fort Matanzas was rain water caught in a cistern under the gun deck. Ft Matanzas National Monument, Florida