Sallie O'Hara: Follow the signs, see the sights on the A1A coastal byway

Sallie O’Hara: Follow the signs, see the sights on the A1A coastal byway

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By Sallie O’Hara – [email protected]

“Fly Away,” John Denver’s popular song from the 1970s, conveys the spirit of the A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway’s long journey in developing a comprehensive wayfinding system for the 72-mile coastal corridor stretching from Ponte Vedra to Flagler Beach. “Life in the city can make you crazy, the sounds of the sand and the sea (I’m of the sea); Life in a high-rise can make you hungry for things that you can’t even see.”

In 2002, the A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway joined the national collection of scenic roadways by becoming a designated National Scenic Byway. Today, there are only 150 such roadways, so that makes this coastal corridor significantly special. By this summer, a roseate spoonbill — the logo of the A1A byway — will adorn 74 custom-built signs along the route’s right of way.

The wayfinding signage system is designed to assist visitors in navigation to the many county, state and national parks along the route. The efforts began in 2009 and have continued with much public participation and collaboration. Friends of A1A stakeholders identified and selected scenic and historic venues along the byway.

County staff in St. Johns and Flagler county governments are overseeing the final implementation work for this design/build project, one of the last federal projects to be funded under the National Scenic Byway Program. Contracting firm Elton Alan plans to begin erecting signs in late February and conclude work by May, if all follows schedule. As part of the ongoing efforts, the project includes decluttering the A1A corridor of unwanted and ugly signage. Friends of A1A will oversee and continue this process long after the new signs are erected.

The aptly named roseate spoonbill is one of Florida’s most distinctive wading birds. As the name implies, the roseate spoonbill also has a large, spoon-shaped bill, which it sweeps back and forth in shallow water to capture prey. The roseate spoonbill is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a State Species of Special Concern by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule. So, too, is the A1A byway protected from excessive growth and development with systematic overlay district regulations in St. Johns and Flagler counties.

Spoonbills feed on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects with its unusual bill. The birds nest at several sites throughout the state, but can be found in almost at any coastal wetland around the peninsula. They nest mostly on islands in marine, brackish and freshwater habitats, including bays, mangroves, marshes, lakes and swamps. The Tampa Bay area is one of the best regions in the state to observe them, as about 15 percent of the population nests there.

Many authorities do not cite the birds as regular visitors to North Florida. However, our population of spoonbills appeared on the rise as of 2010, when the Alligator Farm and Zoological Park recorded the first year of nesting for the species at its A1A Bird Rookery.

In 2011, more fledglings emerged and flocks have been seen congregating frequently along the SR 312 corridor around Flagler Hospital’s lakes and ponds. Pink birds streaking over the Intracoastal Waterway are a sight to behold.

Friends of A1A adopted the roseate spoonbill for the A1A byway logo in 2004. Since that time it has acquired prominence on interpretive signage along A1A. In 2011, a large gateway sign containing a mosaic spoonbill was completed in Ponte Vedra. On Aug. 27, 2007, the city of St. Augustine adopted the spoonbill as its official bird in recognition of its shared characteristics (its exceptional beauty, its rich history and its uncommon ability to survive in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds). In the late 1800s, the species was almost eliminated by hunters seeking their beautiful pink feathers for hats and decorations.

So despite the long wait from 2009 to 2016, the wayfinding signage project with its roseate spoonbill survived. The system includes signs for the North Beach, the Vilano Town Center and several North Coastal Corridor locations while “skipping” the city of St. Augustine, which has its own unique signage.

“She’s getting ready to fly!”

■ The North Coastal Corridor Design Review Board has been canceled for this month’s scheduled date of Jan. 13. The next meeting will be Feb. 10.