Its name means “slaughter” for what the Spanish did to the French there, not the best marketing tool around.

 

But the Matanzas River is a shining jewel among Northeast Florida’s environmental jewels that we are blessed to have.

A recent visit there found a familiar face — former St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon.

Armingeon now carries the title of Matanzas Riverkeeper, a job that he says began with an “epiphany” he had as he was driving from Vilano Beach over the A1A bridge toward St. Augustine.

A PLACE OF BEAUTY

Looking south from the bridge’s pinnacle provides a spectacular view of downtown St. Augustine and the St. Augustine Inlet.

It’s at the inlet that the Tolomato River ends and the Matanzas begins.

From there, it flows 16 miles to the Matanzas Inlet and seven miles farther south before it ends.

The epiphany for Armingeon was the Matanzas should be a part of the Riverkeeper program to help preserve it for future generations.

Armingeon calls the Matanzas “the last, best river in Florida.”

That’s a statement he can back up when challenged.

The river’s water is clean enough that harvesting oysters and clams is allowed.

The reason for the good water quality is that much of the river’s 186-square-mile watershed is undeveloped, and one-third of that is in public ownership, which will provide additional protection in the years to come.

Add to the river’s water quality the fact that the tributaries flowing into it — Pellicer, Moses and Stiles creeks — are a paddler’s paradise.

TROUBLE AHEAD

But Florida’s last, best river, Armingeon will tell you, is not without its challenges.

There is pressure to build large developments within the watershed and the problems that would come with that.

There are issues with wastewater treatment plants.

And there’s what could be the biggest danger on the horizon — the seismic testing for oil and gas exploration that President Barack Obama has approved off the Atlantic Coast.

There’s the inherent damage to the ocean’s marine life that comes with the testing.

But the most frightening aspect for the Matanzas will be the offshore drilling that will follow.

A spill flowing into the river would be devastating.

FIRST HAND TESTIMONY

Zach McKenna knows that well.

McKenna, with 25 years under his belt as a naturalist, operates St. Augustine EcoTours.

He seemingly has a perpetual smile on his face, which is entirely understandable for someone who spends much of his time on the Matanzas studying the river’s dolphins and educating passengers about the river and its wildlife.

Time spent with McKenna on one of his boats drives home the natural and economic importance of the Matanzas for tourism, boating and fishing, all of which could be lost with a spill.

Standing on the A1A bridge that crosses the Matanzas Inlet provides a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and the carved, white sand banks of the Matanzas, its blue-green water and the marshes beyond.

Armingeon admits he still has a strong connection to the St. Johns River, but the Matanzas is a special place for him now.

We are fortunate to have them. They both should be visited, enjoyed and protected.

ron.littlepage@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4284