Mussallem Beachfront Park
The Mussallem Beachfront Park property is an eight and a half acre site located in eastern St. Johns County. It is bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by the Intracoastal Waterway. It is accessible from Highway A1A. The site is one of the last remaining undeveloped parcels in the area, and is currently zoned for multi family homes.
The entire project site consists of native forested vegetative communities that have not been subjected to significant disturbances or alteration as a result of current or past human activities. There is one acre east of A1A which includes Beach Dune and unconsolidated substrate which has been a frequent nesting beach for Sea Turtles in the past. The western portion of the property is 5 acres Maritime Hammock, 2 acres of tidally influenced Salt Marsh and around 1/3 of an acre of upland islands mixed throughout the Salt Marsh which are adjacent to the Tolomato River. Previously a portion which encompasses around 1 acre of Dune and Hammock on the west side of A1A was removed to demonstrate the location of a shared access road for the proposed developments. We will use this already impacted area for our parking and access road and it will provide us an opportunity to use native landscaping in an area that is visible to the public.
The Maritime Hammock is in excellent condition and contains beautiful example of the relationships of the key plants within this community. It is bounded by a dune to the east that ranges from 8-10 feet high except for the northeast corner where the dune has been removed, and the tidal Marsh to the west. The area of the Hammock that is exposed because of the loss of the dune has been negatively impacted by the dominant northeast wind and its health will improve once the Dune area has been restored although the interior of the hammock remains in pristine condition. The Beach Dune community is in good condition; its health has been compromised due to the location of the road but with minimal planting of more Sea Oats, Beach Morning Glory, and Dune Panic Grass it will enhance the health and future and further impact will be limited by foot traffic from the installation of the tunnel. The Tidal Marsh community is in excellent health and it has tremendous value since most of the surrounding marsh is either privately owned or out of the view of the general public. The Black Needle Rush, Salt Marsh Cordgrass, and Salt Wort are surrounded by beautiful pockets of upland islands that will allow for a nice viewing area for the public to enjoy this habitat.
Recreational Opportunities and Resource Protection
Proposed use for this site is a passive resourced-based park. Facilities will be limited to hiking and fitness trails, a nature boardwalk and viewing platform, as well as parking and beach access amenities. Active recreation on the site will consist of low impact activities such as bocce ball courts, horseshoe pits, and a multi-use area for croquet, volleyball or badminton. The site will serve as a trail-head for the East Coast Greenway, as it is adjacent to trails designated on the St. Johns County Greenway/Blueway/Trails Master Plan.
This beach has been a nesting location for Sea Turtles and its protection and will enable the turtles to nest there for the future. The Loggerhead, Green, and Leatherback turtles all require beaches without interference from lights to ensure a successful emergence of hatchlings and a safe journey for them to the ocean. The creation of a passive park in this area will prevent development of the condominiums or houses that would compromise the health of this important stretch of beach.
Mussallem Beachfront Park is located in a high probability archaeological area, with two properties listed on the Florida Master Site File nearby. Users of the park will be educated about the significant natural and historic amenities located both on the site and in the region by regularly scheduled classes and educational signage.
Finally, acquisition of this site through a grant with the Florida Communities Trust removed it from future potential development. The Management Plan for this parcel was developed in accordance with the Grant Award Agreement and in furtherance of the purpose of the grant application. As stated above, the site is already approved for multi family housing. Significant neighborhood opposition to this development brought this property to the attention of St. Johns County for acquisition as a Community park. The County is working with the adjacent property developer to co-locate access roads; parking and landscaping to minimize impacts to the fragile dune ecosystem, as well as the variety of wildlife that make this park their home.
Funding sources for acquisition of this site included the St. Johns County General Fund, impact fees, and commercial paper. These funds were matched by a Florida Communities Trust grant award for joint acquisition with St. Johns County. Other than the restrictions imposed by the Florida Communities Trust and this Management Plan, there are no limits on the use of the property.