By Laurie Sterbens
For Hometown News
In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon explored the area of Ponce Inlet. On a sunny August day 500 years later, Ponce was back, only this time, my nine-year-old son, Trevor, and I were the explorers, and we were on the hunt for the conquistador -- or at least a six-inch-tall, two-dimensional version of him.
Armed with a list of clues and a map of Ponce Inlet, we set out to take part in the "Where's Ponce" Scavenger hunt, hoping to find as many of the 20 Ponces hidden around town as we could. We didn't know what the prize was yet, but we were in it to win it.
The list of clues was in random order, but since we were not only explorers but also an ace cub reporter and his mom, we decided to take the smarty-pants approach and go by the list of participating locations that we found at the bottom of the list of clues. That was in order from north to south, much more efficient as we weren't familiar with some of the locations. This was a great idea in the beginning, but it turned out to be our downfall.
We started at Town Hall at the north end of town, where copies of the lists of clues are available. We'd already printed out our clues from the website, but we stopped in at the office to find out exactly what we were looking for. Armed with a picture of Ponce, we were off, and soon we were able to fill in the answer to clue No. 2: "I noticed a lot of interesting 'town meetings' happen here."
Our plan was to hit two more locations, then have lunch at the North Turn, which is also participating in the hunt, before heading south to continue our hunt. Our second stop resulted in another quick sighting, and we drove confidently down A1A to solve the next clue, "The town 'preserved' this stretch of beach that's near where I first set foot in Florida." We pulled confidently into the beachside parking lot where a boardwalk leads to the beach at Ponce Preserve. This would take no time, we thought. We were getting hungry.
Despite our confidence, that Ponce had to be hidden somewhere on the boardwalk, we weren't able to find him. "Look," I said to Trevor. "There's a trail across the street. Maybe he's there."
By this time, Trevor was showing the first signs that lunch needed to happen soon, but I was determined to solve the puzzle.
We set off onto the path and found a giant oak tree, a playground, a gazebo where two artists were painting, but no Ponce. The charms of the newly discovered park were lost on my ace cub reporter, and I had to admit as we wandered along the sandy trails, sweating and swatting mosquitoes, I was ready for a cold drink and a sandwich. We could come back later, I told Trevor.
A few miles down the road, we settled into a shady table and ordered sandwiches and cold drinks. It was a beautiful day on the beach, and Trevor quickly became distracted by the water. After hiking through the preserve, the turquoise waves looked cool and refreshing.
I promised him we'd go to the beach after we finished our sandwiches and found the Ponce hidden in the restaurant, and he agreed.
This was where our strategy failed us. We knew the locations, but forgot to read the clue that would match the restaurant. If we had, we might have found the six-inch portrait hidden amid the restaurant's extensive collection of racing memorabilia. Instead, we took a halfhearted tour around the restaurant and left without having found anything more than a tasty fish Reuben. We called it a day after only four stops.
"It was pretty hard to find Ponce," Trevor said later, but added, "I liked going to The North Turn and the Police Department. The Town Hall was pretty easy."
As it turns out, we were overly ambitious in thinking we could complete the hunt in a single day, according to Marci Richard, development review clerk for the Town of Ponce Inlet.
"It'd be a really long day if you tried to do it all at once," Ms. Richard said. Many of the Ponce pictures are hidden inside, impossible to spot from the road.
"Like with my granddaughter, we did a few that we knew were in the same location on one day," she said. "The idea was that people take their time and enjoy it."
The idea for the scavenger hunt came about as part of the town's Positively Ponce celebration, marking its 50-year anniversary. Since tourism slows down in the summer, a park board member suggested a scavenger hunt as a way to get locals out and about and learning more about the town.
"People live here and don't go to the parks and don't go to all the businesses," Ms. Richard said. "If you do it, you talk about it and have fun."
Residents have responded favorably so far.
"I've heard from a few people who are really enjoying it," Ms. Richard said. "And that's really what we wanted. We just wanted people to have fun with it."
Participants can download a clue sheet from the town website, ponce-inlet.org, and must correctly identify at least 15 of the 20 locations to be eligible for the drawing. The scavenger hunt continues through Sept. 15, and participants have until Sept. 20 to turn in completed clue sheets to the Planning & Developing Department at Town Hall. The winner of the prize drawing will be announced at the town's 50th anniversary party on Oct. 5. The winner will receive a gift basket filled with items from local businesses, a "Positively Ponce" T-shirt and a town anniversary T-shirt.
Each clue contains a hint of the location in quotation marks, but "There's something else in each clue, if you know the town well enough," Ms. Richard said. "Actually, just by the list of names, most of them you can figure out the general location, and then once you're there, look at the clue again to figure out the specific location."
The ace cub reporter and his mom would recommend wearing comfortable shoes and packing bottled water, especially if you're going to disregard the clues and wander around lost in the wilderness for any length of time.
Despite our dismal showing the first time out, we're thinking about giving it another try. This time, I've promised that our first stop will be where a clue hints that we'll find Ponce in a place that serves lunch.