Florida on a Tankful: 1 park, 2 adventures for dogs in Ponte Vedra Beach

By Scott Fais, Feature Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, August 18, 2017, 11:28 AM EDT

"As soon as you see the sign, 'Now entering the GTM,’ all you see is natural beauty,” said Cheryl Mannel of the scenic drive along A1A In St. Johns County.

The vast expanse along this portion of the famed A1A in Ponte Vedra Beach awaits one park, with two very separate ways to enjoy a weekend with your best friend.

"Bring your best friend, two-legged or four legged,” Cheryl offered. 

The environmental specialist by trade loves sharing a beach and wooded hammock with visitors. Here, you can grab your waterproof camera and hit the sand or enjoy the shade of a natural canopy while on a hike.

"Everybody who comes in says the same thing, 'I never knew this was here.  But I am so glad I know now,’" Cheryl said of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (better known as GTM for short).  The facility is open to man and pets.

"So often these preserved areas are no trespassing areas, and one of the things we really like to encourage is for the public to come out and enjoy these safely for relaxation,” she said.

The 73,000 acres north of St. Augustine will never be developed through a complex partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The public can navigate a boardwalk from the three parking lots before stopping to cross A1A.  Be ready to hit the steps over some of the oldest and largest dunes in the United States.

"Our dunes reach over 30 feet tall,” Cheryl boasted.

Hiding inside the dunes, find gopher tortoises, snakes and nesting birds. Once over the dunes, the view is wide open and dogs can go swimming, while on their leash. The leashes are important during turtle nesting season. So far in 2017, three dogs have dug up nests along the beach.

Ready to step out of the sun? Five different hiking trails are also open to your pet. One trail features pavers for little paws, preventing dogs from stepping on anything harmful while enjoying a hike. It’s also perfect for those in wheelchairs and strollers. Mature trees create shade for you and man's best friend.

"We want them to have a greater appreciation for these natural areas, and we want them to come back and learn more,” Cheryl said.

Know Before You Go:
Before heading out to GTM, dog owners will want three things: a leash, a good flea and tick collar and plenty of water in a bowl for their pooch. The park will provide a hose to rinse your dog down with.

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