GREEN COVE SPRINGS – In recent years, Clay County has made a name for itself as being one of the fastest growing places in Florida.
Its natural beauty has the tendency to be overshadowed by new developments and sprawling subdivisions. However, this area still has some hidden gems, which remind us that most of our community’s real beauty is in the areas which haven’t been developed at all.
One of those places is the historic Camp Chowenwaw Park north of Green Cove Springs. Sitting on 150-acres of wilderness, the park stands as a living testament to the natural wonders that still exist in Clay County.
“We’re not a far drive[from cities], as soon as you cross into the park property, come through that gate, you immediately see forest, that transition is kind of close to home, and yet still close to any other facilities you might need,” said Park Ranger Ann Stodola.
The camp opened July 1, 1933. Over the next 73 years, local Girl Scouts spent their summers roasting marshmallows, swimming and exploring the grounds that generations of Scouts had walked before them.
In 2006, Clay County purchased the camp from the Girl Scouts of Gateway Council with assistance from the Florida Communities Trust using Florida Forever funds. The Park now operates as a conservation, historic preservation and outdoor recreation area.
“We don’t mind at all, that people still know it as the old Girl Scout camp, because it was, and that’s part of our heritage,” said Stodola.
That heritage is on display upon entry into the park. It’s awe inspiring for first time guests. For people who’ve grown up around the park, spending summers with Girl Scout troops, learning to swim in the pool (or even right in Black Creek), and roasting their first marshmallow in a campfire, a rush of memories comes back.
The camp includes 10 campsites and offers overnight cabin rentals. Another little-known fact is that there is meeting and event space on the property. One of the buildings is an original cabin from the 1930s. It’s arguably Clay County’s most affordable venue located on the water.
Though the park has remained in great shape over the years, it’s not immune to hazard. Like much of Northeast Florida, Hurricane Irma damaged a significant portion of the camp’s Jungle Trail and fishing pier. Some of the destruction could be seen while crossing the Black Creek Bridge.
“We will be rebuilding that, the funds have been approved,” said Stodola.
Nestled along the mouth of Black Creek and flowing out to the St. Johns River, children still fish as the water’s edge and soak up the scenery in its natural, pure state. One walk on to the grounds provides guests with makes the land so special. Every step along the trails makes visitors a part of Camp Chowenwaw Park’s history. The legacy the park leaves behind will always be its land. And as long as the land is there, so will its memories.
Meanwhile, the area surrounding Camp Chowenwaw Park continues to develop, and welcome new neighbors, rather than pushing them away.
“We certainly invite any of our new neighbors who are coming on to our property,” said Stodola. “We’re right in your backyard, so please come over.”