Camp Blanding is a 73,000-acre post located in central Northeast Florida near the city of Starke. It is approximately halfway between the cities of Jacksonville and Gainesville. It is named after Major General Albert H. Blanding, a World War I veteran. He has been called one of the most distinguished military figures in Florida's history and is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal. From 1936 to 1940, Blanding was Chief of the National Guard Bureau by appointment of the president.
The base’s history began in 1939 as the state armory board recommended the area next to Kingsley Lake, Florida for a National Guard camp and training site to replace Camp Foster, which became NAS Jacksonville. The base was greatly expanded during WWII helping train over 800,000 troops from 1940 to 1945. Today, Camp Blanding is the primary camp and training base for the Florida National Guard, Florida Army National Guard and elements of the Florida Air National Guard. As well as hosting other Reserves, Army National Guard, Air National Guard, and some Active Component training for the U.S. Armed Forces, it hosts large numbers of ROTC contingents for annual training, police and security training pertaining to counterdrug and organized crime prevention and hosts youth programs such as the Florida Youth Challenge Academy. This youth academy, since its start in 2001, has graduated over 4,600 teenagers that were at risk of dropping out of school. Thanks to its location with temperate Florida weather and its multiple applications and branches of service, the base is active year-round.
Facilities and area quality of life.
Camp Blanding is in a central part of Florida, 55 miles inland from beaches on the East Coast. It is in a rural area along the east side of the large circular Kingsley Lake, which is known for great camping and outdoor activities like fishing, swimming, and hiking. The bases infrastructure has been upgraded and modernized since 2001, with new weapons ranges, a battle course consisting of four villages, and a 13-mile live fire course. According to the base’s website, other upgrades include the use of virtual training systems trainers. These use “a virtual world where Soldiers man vehicles and weapons to interact with each other to prepare for overseas deployment.”
For off duty time, Kingsley Lake is the main attraction. The 2,000 acres lake is believed to have been created from a sinkhole and looks like a circle from the air. Pilots refer to it as the Silver Dollar lake. Part of the lakeshore is within Camp Blanding and the rest is owned privately along with two public access areas. The Kingsley Lake community web page shows photos of 169 private docks and another six on Camp Blanding. Along with its two public access beaches, Kingsley Lake is a major recreational area in northeast Florida. Present on Camp Blanding is a small exchange, a dining facility that can seat 450 (open to military retirees), a conference center with restaurant and event hall, and Cooper Hall, which is available for picturesque events such as weddings with its dock on Kingsley Lake and its beautiful sunsets.
Many traveling through the area seek to camp on Camp Blanding at one of its camping or RV parks. Many of the over 50 RV spots have lake views. Online user comments note how peaceful a stay they have had camping out along the lake. There is a boat ramp on base, an annual fee boat sticker or small fee is required for each boat launch. Camp Blanding and the Florida National Guard staff represent a complex blend of full-time and part-time military personnel, federal technicians, state employees, Citizen-Soldiers, and Airmen. With such a diverse workforce, its access is open to many groups for the use of its facilities. Civilians can gain access through a sponsor. Annual access for civilians to Lake Kingsley from the base is available by submitting an application for an associate membership to the Camp Blanding recreational community outreach program. The area where Camp Blanding is located is rural, the nearest cities (each about 10 miles away) are Starke (pop. 5300) and Middleburg (pop. 13,000). Located within these cities there are restaurants and supermarkets. Nearby is the Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park which rests on a nearby lake and has cottages and other facilities available to the public. Besides the beautiful lake and its fishing options, for hunters there are several private game ranges in the area. For those seeking other attractions, Jacksonville is 45 miles away to the north-east, Gainesville, home to the University of Florida, is 35 miles away to the south-west, and Orlando is 145 miles south. Whether on duty, training with first class military training facilities, or for those seeking a tranquil outdoor vacation, Camp Blanding and its quiet pace along Kingsley Lake is a great destination.