BAYPORT — Bayport Park at the mouth of the Weeki Wachee River is a great place to wet a line for some fishing, having a picnic under the shelters or to launch boats and kayaks. Few realize Bayport’s historical significance.
“Bayport is significant in Florida and national history with respect to its pre-Civil War development as a port, Civil War importance as a contraband port and point of entry, the battles with Union blockade picket ships, and as one of the last ports to surrender,” said Gary Ellis, the archaeologist of record for the site.
The site is the ideal location for an upcoming monitoring-data collection expedition by students from Pasco Hernando State College Spring Hill Campus. Led by adjunct Archeology Professor Annette Doying, several of her students will visit the county-owned park, where they will take photographs, explore for “surface scatter” of interest and take notes as observers for the Florida Public Archaeology Network. FPAN monitors significant sites to ensure important artifacts and early settlements are not destroyed.
Doying, who began the archaeology program recently at PHSC, said there are four archaeological components to Bayport: the remains of two Civil War ships sunk there during the war years, an early pioneer village, the point’s use as an important coastal port, and well before the historical record, and an archaic native American encampment.
Doying and her students had been planning to visit the site in February, but scheduling and paperwork issues around the field trip delayed it. As it stands, students may visit during the summer break, said Doying, or perhaps when school resumes after summer.
The Bayport visit will not involve excavation, said Doying, but will give students the opportunity to do “hands-on” work. They will be able to scan above ground for artifacts, which typically could include pottery shards and other items from the past.
“It (Bayport) is in need of protection and observation,” said Doying, adding the records kept over several years of recording help track changes to the site, which is visited by the public throughout the year. Work at the park, like the rebuilding of the fishing pier, is the type of change the FPAN monitors. She said it has been determined that the work on the pier will not significantly disturb the Confederate ship that lies beneath it, as the new pier pilings will be placed in the same holes used for the existing supports.
Doying said monitoring is important, as construction, fire, storms and vandalism can negatively impact sites like Bayport.
She said the plan is to have PHSC students from each semester visit Bayport to observe and record. In three to four years, FPAN will have stored a significant amount of data and will be able to assess how well the site is standing up to human traffic and other factors that impact its historical value, she said.