Words and images by Ryan Hutchins
Rustic old farming equipment sits untouched in an ancient warehouse. Horseshoes can be seen sticking out of trees, revealing the rich history of this former citrus grove.
The mighty St. Johns River flows in the background while magnolia and oak trees tower over the lush and diverse landscape, which spans over 54.5 acres. Walking trails waiting to tell a story await those who venture in.
Tucked away in the quiet confines of the small town of Switzerland, along the William Bartram Trail lies Alpine Groves Park. This park in northwestern St. Johns County was once a thriving orange grove.
Today, it is a must-see stop along this historic trail which includes river access, stunning views, many nature trails and a playground for the young ones.
The park provides a great sense of nostalgia with its old rustic scenery along with the ancient trees and fresh oranges that grow on the property. The nature trails are seemingly different every time. New flora may spring up or maybe even some wildlife will appear that hasn’t been seen in the park before.
However, the greatest draw of Alpine Groves the magnificent view of the river that it provides. There is an undeniable feeling of calmness that it provides.
Many locals come to the park just to walk out on the pier into the river.
“It’s very relaxing, it’s close to our home and it’s a great place to walk our dog when we have the time,” local Emily Vatessel said. “I just love the atmosphere here. Really relaxing.”
Vatessel is one of many people who walk their dogs at Alpine Groves. The park is noted for its nature trails and rustic old buildings and scenery.
The park used to be a fully functioning orange grove, but due to a major freeze in the late 20th century the grove shut down and ceased business. The land was originally owned by Wally and Ruth Bennett, but they sold their property to a trust for public land in 2000.
Toward the back of the park, near the river, are three old buildings that were erected in the 18th and 19th centuries. One has been refurbished and painted recently to give it a new glow.
The park is also very popular for its photographic opportunities. Local prom and homecoming groups have been known to travel to the park to take pictures, as have wedding parties and families attending local reunions.
Joanne Pius, who works for the St. Johns County Parks and Recreation Department, helps oversee Alpine Groves Park.
“The most picturesque part of the park, in my opinion, would be sitting on one of the benches within the park while enjoying the view of the Riverfront Park area overlooking the beautiful St. Johns River,” said Pius.
Pius also helps groups rent different areas of the park, including the Children Park Pavilion, which accommodates up to 32 people. The pavilion has a themed playground along with a pavilion and many picnic benches. This part of the park is usually reserved for children’s birthday parties.
Visitors can also reserve the Riverfront Park area of Alpine Groves. This reservation is popular for weddings, reunions and other events/gatherings.
Because of the sheer size of the Riverfront Park area, it is a popular destination for weddings and receptions as it can accommodate up to 100 people while the St. Johns River provides a stunning backdrop.
Alpine Groves has it all. It combines a little Florida History with natural beauty. Local UNF student Harper Kerr loves taking in the views the park provides.
“It’s gorgeous,” Kerr said. “I love coming here and walking out to the pier and listening to the river. Sometimes I’ll do homework here — it’s just so calming.”
Alpine Groves has become a must-see stop along the historic William Bartram Trail, located on state road 13.
“Every time I come here I just smile. It’s just that beautiful.”