Let me say straight up that in all the years we’ve been wintering in Florida in Winnona I have never chosen Rodman as a campground because of the dam. Those who know me realize that I am opposed to daming rivers period. That rivers shuld have the right to run free is my strong feeling. I realize that daming rivers provides water to allow people to live in many places but it is also my feeling that they clearly have no business living there if the land, unaltered, can’t support them.
That said, we have come to Rodman becasue of Marjorie Harris Carr. I wanted to see the Greenway named in her honor and to kayak the river she tried to save. After reading her biography, Marjorie Harris Carr: Defender of Florida’s Environment by Peggy Macdonald, I am a fierce admirer of hers. More about MHC in another post.
Now about the campground. It is located 15 miles South of Palatka Florida on US 19. There are a total of 68 campsites split between what they call “Phase one” and “phase two”.
In Phase I, Sites 1-13 have electricity only and 6 pull through sites and several sites up to 40’. Sites 14-39 are “primitive” and listed as tents only. At the far end of the campground is the picnic area and a boat ramp into the “Lake Oklawaha” more rightly known as the Rodman Dam Reservoir. We are staying in the Phase II campground which has sites 40-68 in a loop around a long mound made from the fill taken out to dig the canal. We call it the fill hill. It is fairly steep and treed. Sites 41-58 are on both sides of the campground road. One side backs up to the fill hill and the other to woods. Sites 59-68 back up to the fill hill and face the canal, across the road, for a water view. One other note is that the only restroom is on the sites 41-58 side of the fill hill so if you want to use it you must hike up and over the hill, or go around it.
David surveys a piece of the Cross Florida Canal with its perfectly straight edges. Mother Nature seldom if ever makes straight lines. Wonder why?
The sites are varying distances apart. Our neighbors to the left are a nice distance away, our neighbors to the right are pretty close. Too bad the ones to the right are the stay up at night and party types with many noisy children and late night guests. There does not appear to be any enforcement of the 10pm to 6am quiet hours. That is probably due to the fact that mainly people come here to fish in the reservoir. Reservations can be made on Reserve America though this does not seem to actually be a Florida State Park.. It’s listed there as Florida “Department of Recreation and Parks”. It is not listed in the Florida Parks Passport book. My guess is that this was an Army Corps of Engineers site since they are the villains in this pork barrel project. When the project was finally decommisioned I guess they withdrew from it all. This was not confirmed by the person at the entrance booth who so far has not known the answers to any question we have asked. There do not appear to be any rangers and she works from 7am to 3pm taking money from mostly fishermen I think. It is called Rodman Campground, not Rodman State Park
If you are interested in Rodman for any reason like hiking the Florida Trail or kayaking the Oklawaha, I strongly suggest you book for mid February so you can catch what is billed as and looks like it must have been a spectacular Azalea Bloom at nearby Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka. The information says the bloom is January-April but my experience with Azaleas tells me that by mid March they are usually history.
David really wanted to see the Azaleas so he called the park to check on the status of the blooms and was told they were pretty much finished. “Nevertheless, he persisted”. We went. It’s an easy 15 mile drive and we needed groceries anyway and there is a Publix there. there are no services closer to Rodman than Palatka.
In an effort to spur the economic recovery of the city of Palatka, a ravine created by water flowing from the sandy ridges on the shore of the St. Johns River was turned into what they describe as “dramatic gardens” during the Great Depression from 1933-39 by the Federal Works Proggress Administration (WPA). Of course that means the infastructure was done by the CCC from local stone. They put in the walls, walkways, fountains, and other infastructure as well as the trails and the drive. By 1934 over 95,000 Azaleas had been planted by Federal Emergencfy Relief Administration Workers. No wonder he wanted to see it. These plantings are over 80 years old.
The surviving structures include the main entrance, two suspension bridges, an amphitheater, stone terraces and the Court of States with its obelisk dedicated to President FDR. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 146 acre park is a combination of formal and “natural” gardens though the trails through it are 2.5 and .8 miles long so a lot of those acres are inaccessible. There is also a 1.8 mile paved loop road which winds around the ravine, l offering walkers, motorists and bicyclists a view of the gardens if they do not or cannot hike in among the trees and plants. The drive closes to motor vehicles one hour before sunset.
It must be spectacular to hike these trails and be literally surrounded by azalea blooms, large live oaks and huge magnolia trees.
One point to be noted, Ravine Gardens has very little signage so it can be difficult to find the trail heads if you don’t know to walk through the “formal gardens” down the brick path next to the very large Roy E Campbell Civic Center which you will think is the visitor center but isn’t. There isn’t a visitor center but the map below can be obtained from the wall inside.
After hiking all the trails I am convinced that they spent all their money on this great big thing to the detriment of upkeep on the park, its many steps and on the deteriorating trails.
The CCC works really need some attention. The condition of them is a shame in many cases.
Sorry about the spots on the infamous building, I was taking into the sun for the picture.
Here’s the map provided. The very dark line is the drive which we do after we hike the Azalea Trail which is the longer hike with the smaller dashes. The 8/10 mile spring hike is the one with the larger dashes. After doing the 2.5 mile Azalea Trail with very few azaleas in bloom, we opted out of the spring trail although if it were Mid February with everything in bloom we surely would have done it as well.
Once you go down the formal walk and get to the bottom of the steps everything turns to sand and you go left for Spring or right for Azalea.
Fairly soon we come to the first of the two suspension bridges. I wonder out loud if these cement columns are really what the CCC did originally or if they are a replacement idea.
The bridge itself is made of wood.
The paths are all sand and easily walkable when the ground is level but here in the Ravine, it is up and down. On slopes the paths are falling away and that is perhaps why both trails are labeled on the map as difficult with this one called the most difficult. Maybe that’s true for Florida but I certainly wouldn’t call it difficult though you must be careful on the washouts which make the trail very narrow. David wants me to point out that there are a lot of tree roots to watch out for which have been exposed by erosion, and often occur as loops that could prove very hazzrdous to anyone, young or old who happens to get a foot snagged by one
Lots of stairs both newer wooden ones and CCC era cement which have not been kept up and are tricky since they are covered with sand and no longer level.
David finds the first Azalea bloom. He thinks it’s coming, I think it is going.
We come to the second suspension bridge which is identical to the first. Both of these bridges could be used to cut the hike into smaller sections since the bridges run over the ravine.
We finally find a few blooms that aren’t completely gone. Even faded, their color is wonderful and this would definitely be a spectacular hike if all 95,000 were in bloom or even a fraction of that number.
Azaleas are on both sides of the trail and in most cases taller than we are.
No trail would be complete without some BIG trees.
There are a few wildflowers along the trail as well.
On the back side, we come again to the suspension bridges.
The trail and step edges are stone at this point and either still in good shape from the 30’s or nicely maintained. These steps lead us down into the bottom where the picnic area and amphitheater are.
From here is a nice view of the bridge.
The amphitheater, grass terraces edged with large stones, is across the drive from the picnic area. Although the Azalea trail goes along side the drive in several places, this is the only time it crosses the drive.
Some of the steep inclines and descents do not have steps. Who says Florida doesn’t have “hills”.
We’re back at the formal gardens where you can see the Civic Center just beyond.
It is here next to the parking lot that we finally see two bushes, one purple and one white, with more than two or three flowers on them.
At this point it is 89 degrees out and I think more than ever that this was a crazy thing to do but we hop back in the car, turn on the air conditioning and drive around the drive where David, ever mindful of food, sees not azaleas out his window but wild tangerines and oranges. Thankfully, they are too high up for him to stop the car, jump out and grab some.
Next stop is the Publix grocery store in Palatka after which we drive through the little town which ends as the bridge goes across the St. John’s River. Palatka is making a bid to be a mural town documenting its history with murals on many of the sides of buildings on the main street. There is a guide to the murals and they are definitely worth a visit. To close this post, here are some of our favorites.