Palatka offers golden educational experience


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Palatka is a wonderful one-day visit that will delight your family and friends.

Your first stop should be the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce at 1100 Reid St. at the corner of 11th Street. For information, call 386-328-1503. Tour its new visitors center and pick up material on the highlights of Palatka.

For starters, I suggest visiting the century-old home of Judge Isaac Bronson at 100 Madison St. It usually is open during weekdays and weekends. Call 386-329-0140 for information.

There is no admission charge.

Palatka showcases more than 31 painted murals across its historic buildings. Don’t miss the Palatka South & North Historic Area that encompasses 12 blocks both south and north of State Road 17 (Reid Street). The Historic Area fronts the St. Johns River and River Street. All the buildings in this area were built in the 1800s and early 1900s. The city also hosts the annual Florida Azalea Festival and is near the well-known Log Cabin Winery, south of Palatka.

Your next stop should be Palatka’s Ravine Gardens State Park. Here you will learn that thousands of years ago this ravine was created by swift water flowing from the sandy ridges on the shore of the mighty St. Johns River.

Today, this 60-acre park is a combination of formal and natural gardens.

You can drive your car or walk around the trail on the top of the ravine and view the extensive gardens. A great time to view the Ravine Gardens is during the peak flowering period — the azalea season — from late January to April. The Civilian Conservation Corps program constructed a number of cypress buildings, picnic sites and a large covered pavilion.

It also transformed the ravine into a formal garden with an extensive trail system.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was started in the early 1930s under the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt. This was a public works relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families in the 17 to 23 age group. This young CCC workforce built nine Florida state parks during that time, including the interesting Ravine Gardens State Park.

This park is the only one of the nine parks with a formal designed landscape.

There also are extensive fieldstone terraces, rock gardens and the massive cypress building constructed in the typical style of the 1930s.

In addition to the gardens, enjoy the amphitheater which hosts a spring concert series on weekends in March and April. There also is an interpretive exhibit, hiking and nature trails, picnic areas and private park ranger-led wagon tours.

Ravine Gardens State Park is at 1600 Twigg St. in Palatka. For information, call 386-329-3721. The park is open 365 days a year.

Travel from Brevard to Palatka is easy. Take Interstate 95 north to exit 284. Then, go west on State Road 100/20. It’s then about 30 miles to Palatka. SR-100/20 turns into Reid Street in Palatka.

For the park, take South Ninth Street to Mosely Avenue. Make a left on Mosely Avenue, then a left on Twigg Street. The Ravine Gardens State Park entrance is on the right. Enjoy.