Contribution of local businessmen saves historic event

400-30-8-PONCE-WALKOVEROnly days before the grand unveiling of the 15-foot statue of Ponce De Leon, donated by Candace Carroll of St Augustine, and the re-enactment of the landing of Ponce de Leon 500-years earlier; Historic City News learned of some devastating bad news.

State officials inspecting the site determined the wooden overlook that would be used to observe the dramatic re-enactment was “structurally unsound”, threatening the once-in-a-lifetime commemoration of the April 2, 1563 landing.

Four local businessmen, Mike Davis, A.D. Davis Construction; Bill Kavanaugh, Florida Cypress Products; Dan Charletta, Structures International; and Joe Ziller, Manning Building Supplies; sprang into action. They donated their expertise, services, and materials to re-build the boardwalk overlook to make sure that the public could view what the Spanish explorers would have seen off the coast of South Ponte Vedra Beach.

“All told the value of the donors work exceeds $20,000,” Michael Shirley, manager of the GTM Research Reserve told reporters. “This asset is an enormous contribution to the citizens of Florida and its visitors by creating a vantage from which they can see 500-years back in time.”

The wooden overlook includes benches on which to sit and enjoy the view of the area’s natural environment — largely unchanged since the 16th century explorers landed. Interpretive signage, donated by the St Johns County Visitors and Convention Bureau, tells the story of the only surviving navigational reading taken by the explorers the day before they came ashore; a position of 30° 8′ North, just off South Ponte Vedra Beach.

In 2011, debate swirled over the actual landing spot of Ponce de Leon in Florida. Local historians and the Visitors and Convention Bureau campaigned to educate people of the facts surrounding Ponce’s location. Florida Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Atwater, dedicated a state historical marker at the site, in the north beach access parking area of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, permanently recognizing its place in Florida’s 500-year history.

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