Article by Bill Delaney
Welcome to the Greenway
Starting around Sadler Road in southern Fernandina Beach, Egans Creek flows north for around three miles before wending west and joining the Amelia River. The southern part of the creek supports a forested freshwater environment, while the northern part is a tidal saltmarsh. Featuring 5.6 miles of grassy trails, the Egans Creek Greenway offers visitors a look at the many bird and animal species that make their home here mere blocks from the suburban sprawl of Amelia Island.
Egans Creek and Fernandina history
Thomas Jefferys’ 1770 map of Amelia Island showing Egmont’s “New Settlement” and Anderson’s Creek, now Egans Creek. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The creek has played a role in life on Amelia Island for millennia. Native Americans periodically occupied the mouth of the creek from around 2000 BC; at one time this area was the site of a village and burial mound. In the 16th century, the Spanish colonial government established a sentinel building there to protect its missions to the Mocama Timucua on the island.
During Florida’s British period (1763-1783), Anglo-Irish politician John Perceval, Earl of Egmont operated a large slave plantation covering most of Amelia Island; its headquarters were on the south of the mouth of Anderson’s Creek, as Egans Creek was then known. In 1770, Egmont laid out plans for a “New Settlement” there; naturalist William Bartram paid a visit during his travels in 1774. The creek’s present name derives from Stephen Egan, an Irish administrator who ran Egmont Plantation after the earl’s death in December 1770. Egans Creek was alternately known as Clark or Clark’s Creek well into the 20th century, until the U.S. Board on Geographic Names adopted Egans Creek as the official name in January 1960.
A map of Old Town Fernandina showing Egans Creek to the left. Courtesy of the Amelia Island Museum of History.
The settlement at Egans Creek saw little progress until the Spanish resumed control of Florida after the American Revolution; in 1811 the Spanish platted the town of Fernandina and commenced building a fort to defend it. Now known as “Old Town”, this part of Fernandina was eclipsed when David Levy Yulee’s Florida Railroad drove most development a mile away to the current town center in the 1860s. With most development on Amelia Island occurring south and west of Egans Creek, the creek saw little intrusion for decades.
A natural treasure is born
The outward growth of Fernandina and Amelia Island in the 20th century encroached upon Egans Creek. By the 1960s, private owners had bought up the land, while the creek itself was managed by Amelia Island Mosquito Control. In an effort to control mosquitoes and flooding for the new development, the creek was diked and part of its waters were channeled into a series of ditches. Cut off from the Amelia River’s tidal flow, the creek’s saltmarsh habitat collapsed.
One of the manmade ditches dug to control mosquitoes and flooding, now left to nature.
In 1996, the City of Fernandina Beach undertook an initiative to restore Egans Creek and the surrounding land. Using funds from the Florida Communities Trust and a bond issue, the city acquired acres of land and cut miles of trails to form the Egans Creek Greenway. In 2000, it opened as a mostly undeveloped park for passive activities like walking, biking and bird watching. In 2003, the Florida Department of Transportation reconnected the creek to the Amelia River, reviving the northern Greenway’s tidal flow and saltmarsh ecology for the first time in more than 50 years.
Additional improvements and additions have continued, and two decades later, the Egans Creek Greenway is one of Fernandina Beach’s most popular park spaces.
Next page: Photo tour of the Egans Creek Greenway.