Friends of the St. Johns River Ferry

About the Friends of the St. Johns River Ferry:
The Friends of the St. Johns River Ferry is a 501 c 3 corporation formed in 1996  to encourage, support and defend the retention, continuation and preservation of the St. Johns River Ferry Service in Jacksonville, FL. As a vital part of the local transportation system, connecting State Road A1A between Heckscher Drive and Mayport, we want to improve and beautify the embarkation areas on the North and South banks of the St. Johns River, and to recruit volunteers to improve the ferry experience, and celebrate and publicize the ferry. Reorganized in 2013, it merged with the Ferry Task Force and in 2014 recruited a new Board of Directors.  

About the St. Johns River Ferry:
Ferry service for the St. John's River crossing at Mayport has been in operation since 1894, and has provided a vital transportation link connecting the north and south banks of the St. John's River along SR A1A since 1948.  

 For the full history of the ferry click HERE 

WHY THE FERRY?

  1. Job and Payroll Losses
  2. Strickland Family Reverter
  3. Transportation Link
  4. Why a Bridge Won't Work
  5. Time and Distance
  6. Eco-Tourism
  7. Cycling
  8. Bike Trail
  9. Pedestrian Traffic
  10. Free Ridership
  11. Boaters and Fishermen
  12. Ship and Boat Building/Repairs
  13. City, State and National Parks
  14. Wildlife Rescue Services
  15. Roadway and Bridge Improvements
  16. Surfers and SUPers
  17. Nostalgic and Family Fun
  18. Property Values
  19. Mayport Village Redevelopment Plans
  20. Impact to the Beach Communities
  21. Traffic Impacts
  22. Military Use

The primary purpose of the Friends of the St. Johns River Ferry, Inc. is to “encourage, support and defend the retention, continuation and preservation of the St. Johns River Ferry Service as a vital part of the local transportation system, connecting State Road A1A between Heckscher Drive and Mayport".

Val Bostwick, Former President of the Friends of St. John's River Ferry, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, notes key impacts of discontinuing this service in his letter to the Jacksonville Port Authority (data as of Summer 2010).

1. JOB AND PAYROLL LOSSES

The St. Johns River Ferry Service is the third largest Non-Military business in Mayport. If the St. Johns River Ferry Service shuts down for any reason there will be an immediate loss of thirty-three jobs (18 Fulltime and 15 Part-time). These are good paying jobs in an otherwise economically depressed community (which may qualify as a "Brownfield" area). Closure of the St. Johns River Ferry Service would inflict severe economic harm to the Mayport community. Associated with the job loss above, will be an approximate $700,000.00 annual payroll loss. These monies can be expected to turn approximately two to three times within the Jacksonville community, meaning that the cumulative effect of the payroll loss is the equivalent of a $1,400,000 to $2,100,000 net loss to Jacksonville area businesses - each and every year - and may actually be much higher. Additional economic losses will be incurred by businesses and vendors that provide material supplies or services that support the St. Johns River Ferry Service operation. As a result, more jobs could be lost. At a time when the Nation, State and City are trying to create jobs, it would seem we should start by preserving the jobs we have.

2. STRICKLAND FAMILY REVERTER

Any closure or discontinuation of the St. Johns River Ferry Service (beyond normal maintenance requirements) will "trip" a Reverter Clause in a Deed requiring the return of all, or at least a significant portion, of the Mayport Ferry Landing property to the Strickland Family from which it was originally obtained. Once tripped, the only way to get the property back would be through an arms length purchase from the Strickland Family or condemnation. Either option would be expensive for the Taxpayers! If the Strickland Family were to sell it to a "Third Party", it is unlikely it could ever be recovered. Before returning the property, it could be argued that the City of Jacksonville would be legally obligated to remove the fuel tanks and clean up any environmental contamination or damage done by the use of the property over some 62 years of operation. It could also be argued that the City of Jacksonville must remove the docking facilities - pilings, piers and gangways - so as not to be a navigational hazard or an attractive nuisance that could cause accidental injury or death resulting in lawsuits or liability. The costs to return the property to the Strickland Family essentially "in the condition it was in when it was given" could be substantial, probably running into millions of dollars. Neither JPA/JAXPORT nor the City of Jacksonville, either directly or indirectly, wants to do anything that trips the Strickland Family Reverter Clause. Therefore, whatever action JPA/JAXPORT elects to undertake must be carefully coordinated with the City of Jacksonville. Operation of the St. Johns River Ferry Service cannot be suspended indefinitely, or "Mothballed", in hope of returning it to operation later on. Once "Closed", it's as good as lost.

3. TRANSPORTATION LINK

One thing many people overlook when they talk about the ferry is actually found in its proper name. It is not the St. Johns River Ferry - it's the St. Johns River Ferry Service. It is aptly named because it is a service that is provided. The St. Johns River Ferry Service represents an important transportation link, essentially acting as a "movable bridge", connecting North and South A-1-A across the St. Johns River. Recently I was asked "How much is the ferry worth?", inviting me to put a "Dollar Value" on it. I declined to do so. The Friends purpose is to keep the St. Johns River Ferry Service running. It is not the dollar value of the ferry boat and real estate that matter. It is the service it provides that is its real value. The St. Johns River Ferry Service is not only an important local transportation link, it is a vital part of the regional transportation infrastructure network.

4. WHY A BRIDGE WON'T WORK

Invariably when people discuss the St. Johns River Ferry Service, the question comes up about replacing the ferry with a bridge. There are several reasons why a bridge does not work in this location. First, in order to span the river - though it is only a short distance across - a bridge would have to have sufficient height so as not to impede ship traffic. This would require a bridge design similar to the Dames Point Bridge with a long gradual ascent and descent and acres of dedicated land. Further complicating bridge design, are several bends in the ship channel - "S" turns - between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. This would require the bridge to virtually span the river, so that support pilings would not be an impediment to ship traffic. Geographical features, mainly extensive marshlands and limited uplands on the North side of the river (Heckscher Drive), do not allow for a safe "grade" on that side. Second, the cost of constructing such a bridge for such a short distance would be excessive. But even if money were no object, the third thing that prohibits it is the height restrictions imposed by the Navy and the flight patterns of Naval Station Mayport. In an area where geographic features and river use make it impracticable to build a bridge, a ferry is the best option.

5. TIME AND DISTANCE

Those who use area waters for business or recreation know time and tide wait for no one. The JPA/JAXPORT Website states that it is 28 miles one way from Ferry Landing to Ferry Landing. Actually those are old mileages; pre-Wonderwood numbers. With Wonderwood now open, it is 24 miles one way Landing to Landing (48 miles round trip) - though only 0.9 mile if you take the ferry across. If the St. Johns River Ferry Service is closed, however, how far it is across won't matter if you can't get there from here anymore.

6. ECO-TOURISM

In a city that is trying to provide more public access to the water and encourage use of its park system, a city trying to promote Eco-Tourism and Eco-Tourism related businesses, it seems absurd that we would consider cutting the link that connects the public to the coastal marshes and preserves where most of these assets are located. The St. Johns River Ferry Service links the marshes and coastal parks from Fernandina Beach to St. Augustine and further South. Many kayakers, canoers, bird-watchers, and photographers want to follow this naturalist trail. Eco-Tourism businesses cannot operate profitably in an environment where it is questionable whether the owner/operator and clients can make it to appointments because of extra driving distance or drive time - especially with morning and afternoon traffic congestion.

7. CYCLING

Bicyclists, particularly long distance cyclists, are perhaps one of the lesser known users of the St. Johns River Ferry Service. However, most Saturday and Sunday mornings during the Spring, Summer and Fall (during good weather, of course) they ride the ferry - sometimes dozens at a time. For bicyclists, the St. Johns River Ferry Service is the most important link in the A1A Coastal Highway route. Unlike drivers, there is no alternate North/South route for bicyclists - even if they were willing to go around. Bicyclists are not allowed on the Dames Point Bridge. They are not allowed on the Mathews Bridge, the Hart Bridge, the Fuller Warren Bridge or the Buckman Bridge. The only two bridges in the whole City that bicyclists can use to cross the St. Johns River are the Main Street and Acosta Bridges. These are not reasonable options. Ferry records show that for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, October 1, 2010 - September 30, 2011, 6,292 Bicyclists and Pedestrians used the St. Johns River Ferry Service (records do not differentiate between Bicyclists and Pedestrians).

8. BIKE TRAIL

A project which has been some years in the making, is a "Bike Trail" that goes from Fernandina Beach down through the Talbot Islands, across the ferry, through the Beaches down to St. Augustine. The portion of the "Bike Trail" through Big Talbot Island is currently under construction. Without the continued operation of the St. Johns River Ferry Service - there will be no connection of A1A, North/South, or vice-versa. Each side will stop at the river, with no way for bicyclists to get across. This "Bike Trail" is part of a larger 3,000 mile project which will go from Key West to Maine. Without the St. Johns River Ferry Service in operation, the "Bike Trail" will essentially end in Jacksonville - just on opposite sides of the St. Johns River.

9. PEDESTRIAN TRAFFIC

In spite of its seemingly remote location, there is significant pedestrian traffic that rides the ferry. Those that do are generally area residents commuting to or from work at businesses on the other side of the river. For some, the St. Johns River Ferry Service is the link between home and job. As stated previously, records show that 6,292 Bicyclists and Pedestrians used the St. Johns River Ferry Service for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, October 1, 2010 - September 30, 2011 (records do not differentiate between Bicyclist and Pedestrians, so this information is included in each category).

10. FREE RIDERSHIP

The St. Johns River Ferry Service provides free crossings to a certain select group of "On Duty" Law Enforcement, Fire and Rescue, Life Guards, JPA/JAXPORT Employees, Contractors working on the St. Johns River Ferry Service properties, and to St. Johns River Ferry Service employees and family members. The St. Johns River Ferry Service also extends free ridership to TV News Crews going to reporting assignments in the area.

As further evidence of the importance of the "Ferry" link, the St Johns River Ferry Service provided a total of 4,778 "Free Trips" to persons in the above categories and official capacities for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. In years past, during the Mayport/Ft. George Seafood Festival, and more recently during the Mayport Festival, the St. Johns River Ferry Service has provided "Free" rides for pedestrians attending the festivals. JPA/JAXPORT has graciously continued this tradition (once a year) as a way to promote the ferry and encourage future vehicle ridership.

11. BOATERS AND FISHERMEN

Many boaters and fishermen like to launch their boats at the Michael B. Scanlan Mayport Boat Ramp. Not all come from the Beaches or Southside areas. Many Northsiders use the St. Johns River Ferry Service to cross to Mayport where they can then use the boat ramp. Though the Northside has boat ramps at the Intracoastal Waterway (Sisters Creek) - such as the Joe Carlucci Boat Ramp - they are small and often crowded. Mayport is the favored launching spot because of its size and proximity to the ocean. For fishermen without boats, one of the best locations for bridge fishing is the George Crady Bridge - the old bridge across Nassau Sound - between Big Talbot Island and Amelia Island. Many fishermen use the St. Johns River Ferry Service to access this location, and many favorite or "Secret Fishing Spots" North or South.

12. SHIP AND BOAT BUILDING/REPAIRS

BAE Southeast (formerly Atlantic Marine & Drydock) and St. Johns Boat Company are area shipyards on Heckscher Drive. Many of BAE Southeast?s clients, including the Navy, use the St. Johns River Ferry Service to check on their vessels during various stages of construction or repair. In fact, the ferry boat, Jean Ribault, was actually built locally at Atlantic Marine & Drydock and continues to be inspected and repaired there. These necessary expenditures support jobs in our local community. The St. Johns Boat Company is located on Heckscher Drive, directly across the river from Mayport. Many clients, including Shrimp Boat owners, captains and crew, use the St. Johns River Ferry Service to check on their boats as they undergo repair. The St. Johns Boat Company also has docks which sometimes accommodate Shrimp Boats when there is no room in Mayport. Some, particularly those boats from out of Town or State, do not have local transportation. Captains and crew take the St. Johns River Ferry Service across to Mayport where they can connect with public transportation - the JTA Bus System - while in port.

13. CITY, STATE AND NATIONAL PARKS

Attendance at City, State and National Parks, particularly those in coastal areas such as Fort George Island, the Ribault Club and Kingsley Plantation, Huguenot Park, Little and Big Talbot State Parks, and the Timucuan Ecological & Historical Preserve will be greatly impacted by the loss or closure of the St. Johns River Ferry Service - the roadway link across the St. Johns River - as it will isolate both sides, making it inconvenient for most users, tourists or would-be attendees. Park Rangers also use the St. Johns River Ferry Service to access the parks under their jurisdiction.

14. WILDLIFE RESCUE SERVICES

The Bird Emergency Aid and Kare Sanctuary (B.E.A.K.S.) located on Big Talbot Island uses the St. Johns River Ferry Service as a means of reaching injured birds in the Beaches communities. Likewise, volunteers from the Beaches use the St. Johns River Ferry Service as the most direct route to the facility. Beach Residents who rescue or capture an injured bird on their own know, or are often advised, that they can deliver the bird in a container to the Mayport Ferry Landing where it will be taken across to the Ferry Landing on Heckscher Drive and be picked up and transported to the B.E.A.K.S. facility for care and rehabilitation. Without the North/South "Ferry" link in the A-1-A coastal highway route, it will be both difficult and costly for B.E.A.K.S. to rescue injured birds in the Beaches area in a timely manner. It will also be difficult to encourage volunteers to continue to serve at the facility or to convince Beach Residents to deliver injured birds all the way out to the B.E.A.K.S. facility on Big Talbot Island.

15. ROADWAY AND BRIDGE IMPROVEMENTS

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has made numerous roadway and bridge improvements over the last several years to the A1A Corridor, including but not limited to: (1) repaving the Heckscher Drive/A1A route North to Nassau County: (2) building new bridges across Shad Creek, the Fort George River, and Nassau River; (3) raising and rebuilding the section of A1A into Mayport Village; and (4) repaving Mayport Road (aka A1A) to Atlantic Boulevard. The cost of these improvements amount to tens of millions of dollars. All improvements lead to, from, or by the Ferry Landings; and go to, from, or by various City, State and National Parks - or to other public access points along the A1A Corridor. All upgrades, improvements and/or replacements to A1A were done because FDOT expected more use of the A1A Corridor; not less. Loss of the St. Johns River Ferry Service will sever the North/South link between the two sides.

16. SURFERS AND SUPERS

Surfers and SUPers (Paddle Boarders) ride the ferry North or South in search of the perfect wave. Loss of the St. Johns River Ferry Service would sever their North/South route, adding an extra 48 miles and considerable time to their normal trip - which translates directly into missed waves, fun and enjoyment. Often, because of time constraints due to work or family obligations, many go before or after work. Surfers and SUPers are on a tight schedule. Without the ferry, the extra time to drive around - particularly during rush hour traffic - may make the trip unfeasible.

17. NOSTALGIC AND FAMILY FUN

To a lesser degree of importance perhaps, but high on most of the public's list, is the unique experience to ride the ferry - to be able to get out of the car, stand at the rail and view the river, the boats, the birds, and perhaps even see a porpoise or two. Even the Mayport Lighthouse has a different look from the ferry. It's a fun experience. It is often a family experience. It makes for a memorable trip whether one is a local resident or tourist. In fact, many locals make it a point to take their guests across the ferry as it is one of Jacksonville's more unique features. If the St. Johns River Ferry Service shuts down, this experience known to generations will be lost forever. The St. Johns River Ferry Service is so entwined in the history of Mayport that Mayport literally wouldn't be Mayport without the ferry.

18. PROPERTY VALUES

Closure of the St. Johns River Ferry Service would have both immediate and long-term negative impacts on real estate and business values on both sides of the St. Johns River. This would be on top of the already depressed values due to current economic conditions; further perpetuating the downward spiral.

19. MAYPORT VILLAGE REDEVELOPMENT PLANS

Several groups have worked for years, and are still working, to encourage growth and redevelopment in Mayport Village. While most don't like JPA/JAXPORT's plan for a Cruise Ship Terminal in Mayport, truth is that it is probably be more compatible with redevelopment plans than losing the St. Johns River Ferry Service. Without the St. Johns River Ferry Service offering two-way traffic flow, North and South, Mayport Village becomes the end of a "Dead End" road and thus an unattractive area for new businesses to locate and existing businesses to survive.

20. IMPACT TO THE BEACH COMMUNITIES

Traffic flow along the A1A Corridor would be greatly disrupted by closure of the St. Johns River Ferry Service. Businesses that once had customers pass by their front door would no longer see those customers or the dollars they once spent. The impact would be similar to the Interstate Highway system which by-passed many established businesses on older routes in the 50's and 60's, leaving them to a slow economic death. None of the Beach communities will be immune. And no community will be hit harder than Mayport. Assuming the St. Johns River Ferry Service shutdown and traffic was routed over the Dames Point Bridge, why would a driver take the first (Wonderwood), second (Atlantic Boulevard), third (Beach Boulevard) or fourth (JTB) Easterly route to the Beaches? Easier to stay on 9-A until they get to the Easterly route closest to their intended destination. It is probable the driver would return the same route, knowing that they would have to go back over the Dames Point Bridge. Thus, the volume of North/South traffic that travels the A1A (Third Street) Corridor today - potential customers who might stop to shop at local businesses - would be greatly reduced. Businesses along Heckscher Drive would not be immune either. Next to Mayport, they will be hit hard too. Since they would have to go over the Dames Point Bridge, drivers that once took the A1A coastal route when they could cross on the ferry would likely decide I-95 to 9-A (and vice versa) was quicker because of the extra mileage to go around. If so, many drivers would likely skip getting off on Heckscher Drive entirely.

21. TRAFFIC IMPACTS

If the St. Johns River Ferry Service were to close, assuming that people still made the trips they currently make via the St. Johns River Ferry Service, then traffic counts on the Dames Point Bridge, at Heckscher Drive and 9-A and Merrill Road and 9-A, will go up. These areas already have traffic problems, which will only be magnified by additional port traffic in the future. The St. Johns River Ferry Service offers motorists an alternate route that avoids these interchanges. It makes sense to keep it open.

22. MILITARY USE

Various military personnel (Navy, Coast Guard and Marines) use the St. Johns River Ferry Service. The chief user among the military branches is the Navy which often has ship repair work done on and off base. Depending on where they are coming from, some Navy contractors and/or their workers use the St. Johns River Ferry Service to get to Naval Station Mayport to work. Likewise, BAE Southeast (formerly Atlantic Marine & Drydock) handles a lot of Navy shipyard work off base at its location on Heckscher Drive. Navy personnel use the St. Johns River Ferry Service to travel between Naval Station Mayport and the shipyard in order to inspect work being conducted on naval vessels.

 

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Friends of the St. Johns River Ferry is a 501 (c) 3 that advocates on behalf of the ferry service and the A1A connection in Northeast Florida.