Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area
~ My first visit to Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area was during a Sunday ride around the 30-mile Ormond Scenic Loop, a beautiful excursion through lightly populated low-country wetlands north of Daytona Beach.
At first glance, it’s not much of a park, a modest 144 acres on both sides of State Road A1A, wrapped by sand dunes in a natural coastal eco-system with a modest half-mile beach.
But when you add another 2.5 miles of pristine beachfront at the nearby North Peninsula State Park, as well as three other state parks within minutes along the Ormond Loop, this really is a whopper of a destination.
North Peninsula State Park, Tomoka River State Park, Bulow Ruins Historic State Park and Bulow Creek State Park are all within cycling distance of Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area.
Gamble Rogers campground doubles in size to 68 sites
Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area has long had a nice little campground just behind the dunes on the beach with 34 sites for either tents or RVs. But the beach was really the only thing special about it. The sites themselves are laid out in parking-lot fashion on hard-pack sand base with little privacy between sites.
For winter visitors, good weather can be a crap shoot, especially in February, and when the wind blows cold across those dunes, even RVers start yearning for a warmer destination.
The new Riverside campground should ease some of that pain.
Located west of State Road A1A on the Matanzas River (Intracoastal Waterway) and protected by rows of dunes and brushy vegetation, the new campground offers an additional 34 sites, including 4 smaller sites designed for tenters.
All 68 sites in both campgrounds have 50-amp electric, water hookups, picnic tables and a fire ring. Each campground has its own rest rooms with showers. There is a dump station within the park.
Pets are allowed in the campground areas, but not on the beach.
The four new tent sites are situated along the wooded edge of the maritime hammock with full to partial shade.
The new Riverside campground should ease the pressure on booking a site at the park, although it’s only a matter of time that campers learn of the expansion. As with any Florida state park, and especially beachfront parks, book as far ahead as you can up to 11 months in advance with ReserveAmerica.
Camping fees are $28/night, which includes water and electricity, plus a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee per stay. Florida residents over age 65 are entitled to 50% off the base campground fee.
Admission to the park for day visitors is $5 per vehicle (limit 8 people per vehicle), $4 for one person and $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists.
PARK ADVISORY: The new Riverside Campground is not accepting reservations before Sept. 1, 2015. However, the campground is already open (as of July 13, 2015) and is accepting campers on a first-come, first served basis. Note to RVers: While the maximum RV length at Gamble Rogers is 47 feet, most sites are shorter, so if you book a site that’s too short for your rig, it’s likely that you’ll be out of luck seeking to trade up.
Bring your kayaks, bicycles and a guitar
There is a boat ramp on the river side of the park suitable for runabouts, fishing boats, kayaks, canoes and paddle boards, giving visitors access to a vast network of interconnected saltwater marshes, wetlands and quiet inland waterways.
However, there is no nearby ocean access from the river. The closest inlets are the Ponce Inlet south of Daytona (25 miles) and the St. Augustine Inlet (35 miles).
Although the roads that make up the Ormond Scenic Loop are narrow, the motorized traffic is sparse and moves slowly, so it’s generally safe to navigate on bicycles. And a beautiful ride it is.
There’s paved bike path runs along A1A south to the nearby North Peninsula State Park or north to Flagler Beach, a classic Old Florida beach town with excellent restaurants, oceanfront tiki bars and shopping.
There’s also a pier for fishing (with a popular restaurant at its base), and this beach is a prime location for whale-watching, not to mention an extraordinary migratory bird transit point.
Kayaks, canoes and bicycles are available to rent at the ranger station.
For hikers, a nature trail winds through a shady coastal forest of scrub oaks and saw palmetto. The three-quarter-mile trail has several benches and interpretive signs. It’s an easy hike, a little rugged in places.
Because it’s a coastal trail near wetlands, you should wear good shoes and a hat, bring sunscreen, bug spray and something to drink.
Gamble Rogers, folk singer
Twice a month, on the second and fourth Saturdays, musicians gather in the park’s outdoor pavilion for the Gamble Jam, a casual acoustic jam session that attracts musicians of all skill levels in honor of the park’s namesake, folk singer Gamble Rogers.
Guests are welcome. Bring a chair and your instrument. There are no electric facilities in the pavilion.
The park, formerly known as the Flagler Beach State Recreation Area, was renamed Gamble Rogers in 1992 after a heroic rescue attempt a year earlier. In October 1991, Gamble Rogers and his wife were camping at the park when a young girl asked them to help her father, who was struggling in rough surf.
Despite suffering from spinal arthritis, Gamble grabbed an air mattress and headed towards the ocean. Within minutes, a park ranger joined in the rescue attempt.
Gamble, clinging to the air mattress, indicated to the ranger that he was OK.
The ranger was able to pull the drowning man’s wife from the water but was unable to locate the man. At the same time, a large wave washed over Gamble, ripping away his air mattress. Both men drowned.
Rogers was a renowned Florida folk singer and storyteller known for the recurring theme in his songs and stories about characters and places in fictional Oklawaha County, representative of Roger’s imagination for the good-ol’-boy culture of Central Florida.
According to Wikipedia, Rogers began performing in the 1960s, often with noted Florida singer-songwriters Paul Champion, Jim Bellew and Will McLean. By the 1970s, he was a regular fixture at the Florida Folk Festival, often as headliner.
A self-described “modern troubadour,” Rogers influenced many others, including Jimmy Buffett, who dedicated his 1994 album Fruitcakes to Rogers.
Gamble Rogers State Park, 3100 S. State Road A1A, Flagler Beach, FL 32136. 386-517-2086 (Ranger office, not reservations); Camping Fee: $28; Reservations: Up to 11 months in advance. Call 800-326-3621 (8 am to 8 pm) or book online at ReserveAmerica.com.