If your boat fits under a 45-foot bridge, The St. Johns River is navigable for nearly 200 miles past its intersection with the Intracoastal Waterway, but one of its most eye-opening attractions is in easy reach. Clark Fish Camp, a dock ’n’ dine seafood restaurant, is just 34 miles from the ICW on Julington Creek, a tributary of the St. Johns.
Anyone drawing less than six feet can anchor comfortably in the creek or tie-up at the Mandarin Holiday Marina, which accepts transient vessels up to 50 feet long with a beam of 15 feet or less.
Clark’s may well be the most unusual dockside eating establishment in the world. As you may have guessed from the pictures (taken just days before Hurricane Lily flooded the place), the restaurant features a taxidermy collection. Few realize that Clark’s collection of stuffed animals is the largest in North America.
Unless your air draft is less than 15 feet, you will have to take your dinghy under the Julington Creek Bridge 1.8 nautical miles to Clark’s. Dogs, even big dogs are welcome to the outside seating areas of the restaurant. This is the kind of place visited by locals when they have friends and family visiting from out of town. It’s a hoot.
Unusual among taxidermy collections, the dozens of animals here are displayed whimsically, mixed in unusual combinations or shown in predatory mode. It is nice to see taxidermy that is so well cared for. Cleaning and maintenance of the animals is constant, beginning at one end of the building and proceeding to the other, before beginning again. Were it not a restaurant, it could be another weird Florida museum.
Wild alligators are common on the creek along Clark’s docks, but inside you can see Lily the Alligator in her private pool, the one live beast among many departed. And outside sits a real dugout canoe like the kind that plied these waters before the Spanish arrived.
Like most of the Jacksonville waterfront, Clark’s was hit hard by Hurricane Irma; water flooded 40 inches over the floorboards, the highest level ever, higher than Hurricane Matthew 11 months earlier. The John Roush family has owned the place since the 1970s, and has a good flood plan. Many of the animals are displayed high above the restaurant floor, and the rest are evacuated in trucks when flooding is in the forecast.
Lily rode out the storm in her glass tank, and must have wondered what was happening when the water outside reached the same level as inside.