Ronnie Van Zant Memorial Park honors the memory of the late Lynyrd Skynyrd singer and songwriter who sang about freedom and the outdoors in some of the band’s most popular songs. It is in Lake Asbury between Jacksonville and Green Cove Springs, Florida.
Van Zant was born in Jacksonville on January 15, 1948. He was a lover of music and the outdoors, a fan of boxing great Muhammad Ali and played American Legion baseball. He joined with friends Allen Collins, Garry Rossington, Larry Junstrom and Bob Burns to form a a band they called My Backyard in 1974. Ronnie was 16 at the time.
The band mates renamed the group several times before settling on Lynyrd Skynyrd as a tongue in cheek tribute to gym teacher Leonard Skinner who taught three of the four at Robert E. Lee High School. The New York Times later called Skinner the “most influential high school gym teacher in American popular culture” after Lynyrd Skynyrd roared onto the national scene with such hits as Tuesday’s Gone, Gimme Three Steps, Simple Man, Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird. The band’s albums have sold more than 30 million copies.
Ronnie Van Zant was only 29 when he died in the tragic Mississippi crash of the band’s plane on October 20, 1977. He often predicted to family and friends that he would not live to see his 30th birthday.
His memory and desire to do good in life live on at Ronnie Van Zant Memorial Park. Funded by the Free Bird Foundation and operated by Clay County Parks, the park covers 90 acres and is designed to help kids get outdoors and become better musicians, athletes and young people. Among the highlights is the Ronnie Van Zant Lake, a stocked five-acre fishing facility where people of all abilities can enjoy fishing and time in the outdoors.
Other facilities include tennis courts, ball fields, playgrounds, trails, frisbee golf and a gorgeous $50,000 play structure for kids that is named in honor of Marion “Sissy” Van Zant.
Ronnie Van Zant Memorial Park is at 2760 Sandridge Road, Lake Asbury, Florida. It is free to visit and is open daily.
These official videos were recorded at live Lynyrd Skynyrd performances in 1977: