Mission director's mission: explaining all the changes Mission Nombre de Dios Director Joanna Stark is on a mission to explain to upset neighbors and the city at large the whys and wherefores of recent and ongoing changes to "America's most sacred acre." "We tried to do it right," she says of a plan to build an 800-seat amphitheater and likely a parking garage. "We went to the city early on and asked what we needed to do. "We should also have reached out to our neighbors early on," she acknowledged. On the heels of a fence installation encompassing the 26-acre property, an appearance before the Planning and Zoning Board earlier this month was the first many had heard of the amphitheater and garage plans. Diocese officials and their attorney did go to the public with a session in the Novitiate Church off San Marco Avenue a week after the PZB continued the matter. The City Commission will be asked to correct a land use designation to include church use for the property. Stark says the fence ("There have been vandalism issues and our insurance carriers advised it for safety and liability issues"), amphitheater ("We should have stuck with the term 'open-air memorial'") and garage are just part of a holistic plan for the property. It began with extensive repairs following damage from hurricanes Matthew and Irma. In addition to a new, raised Shrine building for offices and conferences, a walking rosary garden near a Pine Street pedestrian entrance installed at neighbors' requests, bulkheads to secure tidal basins and a great cross walkway lined with blossoming trees are in the works. Entrance signs call the site the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre de Dios, which will be more fitting later this year with a Vatican-authorized coronation of the Lady of La Leche image, a significant event in the Catholic faith. "We're doing this for the Catholic Church, but also for our community," says Stark. "We are all stewards of the most sacred acre in America and the most historic site in St. Augustine."
March 20 2019
Wheelchairs at Visitor Center Heavy duty wheelchairs designed to navigate a variety of surfaces are now available at the Visitor Information Center. Rentals are available 8:30 am - 5 pm daily at the information desk inside the Visitor Center at $8 for a two-hour minimum up to $20 for a full eight-hour day. A special rate of $2 an hour for veterans is offered. Rentals require a $50 security deposit.
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History’s Highlight A lawyer recounts Castillo dungeons A visit to Fort Marion – the renamed Castillo in St. Augustine’s territorial years – by Henry Summer, a young South Carolina lawyer, is drawn from his “Journal &c. for 1837,” by South Carolina author and historian John Hammond Moore. “Have been at the Fort (Marion it is now called). It is a strong fortress. Mr. Davis, the Keeper of the Prisons, showed me the principal dungeons - the one in which McGirth was confined for several years was dark, with the exception of a little light that could penetrate it through a door which led from another dungeon in which last light was received through a window from the inside of the fortress. “This is in the South East corner of the fort. The dungeons of the South west contain the Magazine of the U. S. In the North West there is a dungeon the light of which is from the door, and perhaps a little from the outer wall. “From this there is a dark dungeon, the door to which was closed up until within a few years since - It is said in there human bones - or stones resembling those of a man were found. “Between this and the North East corner the Catholic chapel is - or rather it was used for that purpose when the Spanish had possession - I do not say that such was the use during the whole time. In the North East corner, there was a dungeon in which the prisoners were formerly kept, which had light only from a door leading from another dungeon. “A fellow confined in it found his way out by digging thro’ a wall where there formerly had been a door, and then between two walls by scaling the dirt back, he made his way to the top, which he broke through, and escaped. “Then further in a door which had been walled up was discovered which led into another dungeon, in which I suppose no ray of light had pierced after it was built, until two years since when it was opened. It is a handsome place, were not such horrors associated with it.  “Along between the N. E. & S. E. Corners is the place which was designated for baking and cooking, for food, &c. How many sighs have been sobbed in, how many, many groans have been heard by these walls, how many tears have flowed unseen by man, or if seen, unpitied they fell. “Enough said.” (The only recorded escape from the Castillo was by the Seminole leader Coacoochee and 18 followers, November 29, 1837. The escape described here could have been conjecture by the lawyer or possibly an unrecorded escape.) 
Growth challenges city’s fire service Expect expansion of the city’s fire department this year, paid for by the cause of that expansion, area growth. Fire Chief Carlos Aviles says while the US Census Bureau estimated the city’s population growth at roughly 9 percent from 2010 to 2017, fire service calls have gone up 29 percent City police officials have worked over the years to fill the ranks to police and protect a city with increasing tourism and ever-growing nightlife.  Aviles notes of calls for 2018, 2 percent were for fires while 69 percent were for rescue and emergency medical service calls, which include auto crashes. The rest included mostly hazard calls and false alarms. There were 4,235 calls last year compared to 3,261 in 2010. Housing projects account for part of that growth. The Landing apartments on US 1 will have 273 units and the Antigua apartments on Anastasia Island will add another 249. “And there’s another development behind the Landing and Madeira is continuing to be built out,” he said. City Manager John Regan says the growth in the city means there will be money to help pay for it. Planning for that expansion happens during the city’s annual budget process with public workshops in August.
38th Annual Lions Seafood Festival The 38th Annual St. Augustine Lions Seafood Festival Friday-Sunday, March 22-24 at Francis Field will feature seafood, arts and crafts, live music, family activities, and more. Look for an array of fresh food including crab, shrimp, crab legs, gyros, pizza, and Asian cuisine, nearly 100 arts and crafts vendors, kiddie rides, family shows and a wide range of musical entertainment ranging through jazz, salsa, classic rock, country, pop and Americana.  Use the free park and ride shuttle Saturday and Sunday, managed by City of St Augustine. Pickups every 20 minutes for lots north of the city at the St. Johns County Health Department and north San Marco Avenue. Hours: Friday 3 pm - 9 pm; Saturday 10 am - 9 pm; Sunday 11 am - 5 pm. Adults $5, kids under 15 and active duty military free. Visit https://lionsfestival.com/  Festival of Chariots Saturday Festival of Chariots, or Rathayatra, an annual event celebrating Indian and Hindu culture, will be celebrated Saturday, March 23 with two colorful parades, live entertainment, vegetarian food, dancing, art vendors, and more. Look for a vibrant Festival of Chariots parade from 10 am to noon along King Street at the Plaza de la Constitución and at 1 pm a walking procession along St. George Street, with colorfully-garbed participants singing and dancing as they proceed to Cathedral Place and the Plaza, where a cultural program will take place after the procession. The free festival features a vegetarian feast highlighting Indian cuisine, music, a dramatic presentation, art vendors, a magic show, face painting, henna tattoos, and more. Visit http://festivalofchariots.org/
Castillo, Fort Matanzas offer summer camps From the glacis of the Castillo de San Marcos to the waters of the Fort Matanzas inlet, National Park Service rangers are offering Hands-on-History & Nature Camps in June. Fort Matanzas camps are June 3-7 and June 10-14. Camps at Castillo are June 17-21 and June 24-28.  All four camps run Monday-Friday 9 am - 1 pm. Park Rangers, Teacher-Ranger-Teachers from St. Johns County, and knowledgeable volunteers engage campers ages 9-11 with interactive presentations, hands-on projects, games, living history demonstrations, and experiences with the natural world. Camp topics include archaeology, Native Americans, nature, Spanish exploration, colonial Florida, and the Spanish military. Campers will have fun while creating projects involving pottery, leatherwork, textiles, and more! Registration begins Monday, April 1. Contact Mary Sims, Administrative Assistant, Monday-Friday, 8 am- 4 pm. The cost for camp is a nonrefundable fee of $25. Space is limited. Messages left on voicemail will be returned in the order they were received. In your message, please state that you are calling about camp and leave only your name and phone number. Call 904-829-6506 ext. 227 to reserve your spot.