El Faro Memorial at Dames Point Park

Address: 9051 Dames Point Rd, Jacksonville, FL 32226

“Dames Point Bridge” in Jacksonville, Florida. 5 July 2020.

Parking: This park has paved parking, with 6 or 7 marked spaces plus one paved handicap parking space. There is plenty of additional paved parking along the curbs as you enter the gated entrance. The park is free, and despite a gate, it is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Facilities: There are at least two picnic tables under a sheltered pavilion right along the St. Johns River. There is also a floating dock, but it was closed for repairs during a visit in July 2020. There are Men’s and Women’s restrooms in a concrete building with full plumbing, and there are trash cans and one dumpster on the property.

Trails: There are no “trails” at this park, but you can walk a few dozen yards along the river’s edge and then you can walk the paved street under the bridge and back up Dames Point Road.

View of the “Dames Point” bridge as you approach El Faro Memorial park.

You access the park from Heckscher Drive / Zoo Parkway, to New Berlin Road, and then Dames Point Road. Dames Point Road (pictured above) is a winding road about one mile long that is favored by motorcyclists who like to include a “down and back” route into their Heckscher/A1A cruise. It’s mostly “crotch rockets” and they like to run at high speeds and hug those tight turns, so just be aware while you’re on the road or walking the edges.

Entrance to El Faro Memorial at Dames Point Park

Dames Point Road basically terminates at the image above; you can turn right and head directly north under the bridge, but it quickly enters a restricted access facility. So, hang a left here and enter the park – the parking places are about fifty yards up on the left.

Entrance to El Faro Memorial at Dames Point Park.

Pictured above is the entrance as seen head-on. That is the “Dames Point” bridge as you look generally south (directionally headed into Arlington / Regency area). The Dames Point Bridge is 175 feet high, 1,300 feet long (main span), 6 lanes across, and was opened in 1989. It’s a behemoth and cruise ships can pass directly underneath it.

Target Species: Vesper Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike, Western Kingbird, Brown Thrasher, Little Blue Heron, Brown Pelican, House Finch.

About: El Faro Memorial at Dames Point Park is a City of Jacksonville owned and operated park. While it is not a “birding hotspot”, you can manage some decent species here, and the access to – and views of – the bridge and to the St. Johns River is really unparalleled.

If you’re not aware, the El Faro was a 791 foot cargo ship based out of Jacksonville that was headed to Puerto Rico in 2015 when it was commanded into the heart of Hurricane Joaquin, a Category 3 storm. The El Faro was lost on October 1, 2015 and all 33 souls on board perished. This park is a beautiful memorial to those thirty-three sailors, and I strongly suggest everyone in the area should visit this park at least once.

The El Faro Memorial obelisk.

Pictured below is the memorial for each of the thirty-three people lost on the El Faro. Each monument includes the name, a picture, and inscribed words from loved ones. All of them also have various mementos from visitors. Plan on spending some time here reading about these people and don’t rush through it.

The area is inhabited by numerous feral cats that are well-fed and are spayed/neutered. They are extremely friendly and will quickly climb in your lap if you’re so inclined.

El Faro Memorial.

Birding Strategy:

I usually start the birding for this “hot spot” at the corner of New Berlin Road and Dames Point Road, which is a three-way “stop” intersection about 0.9 miles from the parking lot. There is a small, narrow pond on the right about a hundred yards after turning onto Dames Point Road heading to the park. This is a good place to check for shorebirds in migration (like Spotted Sandpiper or Solitary Sandpiper), and there are often swallows flying to and fro over the pond. Check the surrounding fences and power lines for Eastern Bluebird, European Starling, doves, and in winter – sparrows such as Chipping. On your left, listen for Painted Bunting and Great Crested Flycatcher in summer.

Dames Point Road winds on for about another .75 miles before the parking lot, so drive slow and bird the open fields for waders like Cattle Egret, and along the razor-wire-topped chain link fence for Loggerhead Shrike, Western Kingbird, and sparrows like Vesper and Savannah in winter.

As you pull left into the park, bird the lot and entrance for Blue Jay, Brown Thrasher, and Northern Mockingbird. There are some dense thickets and hedgerows here that also include migrant songbirds / warblers in spring and fall.

View of the Dames Point Bridge (looking south) from the El Faro Memorial.

You will have direct access to the Saint Johns River from the parking lot, and can easily launch a kayak here from the old paved, concrete public boat ramp (the ramp is not accessible to launched trailered watercraft). As you view the river to the south, you can see “Quarantine Island” which is a dredge disposal area and man-made island that runs underneath the bridge. Scan the river for gulls, terns, loons, cormorants, pelicans, ducks, and along the pilings – Ruddy Turnstone. In winter, look for raptors like Bald Eagles and year-round, Osprey.

View north from under the Dames Point Bridge.

After you park, you can head back north under the bridge and bird the often-overgrown edges for sparrows, doves, finches, and songbirds. There are ponds just to the west that may include waders like Wood Stork, Little Blue Heron, and Tricolored Heron.

View of the restricted access area just to the west of the parking lot.

Heading north just outside the entrance “gate”, you can access views to the west as pictured above. This is a restricted access area protected by a chain link fence, but you can scan two ponds and a grassy area from here. Look for ducks (in winter) and waders in all season. I imagine “grasspipers” might light here occasionally but I’ve yet to see one here.

Dames Point Road, looking north.

If you choose to walk back up Dames Point Road, you will encounter this pond (above) on the right. You can actually walk all the way around it, and on the east side of the pond you can scan additional parts of the river that surrounds Blount Island. The grassy edges here and small scattering of oak and pine will host Phoebes in winter, migrant songbirds, and in summer, Great Crested Flycatchers. The fence along the left is particularly good for Shrike and Sparrows (in winter). The pond area almost always yields a Killdeer.

Door to nowhere (?)

Each of the massive pilings supporting the bridge has a “door to nowhere”. Or more likely, the door may lead to an interior ladder or stairwell that leads all the way up to the bridge. I just find it interesting that these doors are placed a good eight or ten feet above the ground.

Typo’d signs

The sign above can be found in about four locations around the intersection of New Berlin and Dames Point Roads. Is it just me, or is the veracity of their threat undermined by the poor grammar? Or maybe they’re “doubly sseriouss” and adding an extra “s” conveys that? I’m being overly snarky, but I do love a misspelled sign. By the way, don’t worry about these signs – they are not posted in anywhere I’ve suggested you go…and obviously the El Faro Memorial is freely open to the public.

Dames Point Bridge.

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