"" Writer's Wanderings: Key Largo - John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park

Monday, February 07, 2011

Key Largo - John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park

The John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park in Key Largo is said to be America's first undersea park but actually has lots to do on dry land as well. This time of year the weather is a bit more comfortable for exploring on land rather than under the ocean diving or snorkeling.

The park was created to protect and preserve a portion of the only living coral reef in the continental United States. It extends three miles into the Atlantic and is about 21 miles long. It is next to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The park is named for a Miami newspaper editor, John D. Pennekamp, who also helped establish the Everglades National Park.

We set out one morning and entered the park for $4.50/each. The price goes down to $2.50/each if you have a car full of people. Our first stop was the visitor center which has a large display dedicated to environmental education. There is also a nice large aquarium and some smaller ones that give you a close-up view of some of the underwater critters and fish of the area. We skipped the video in favor of getting back out into the warm sunshine and fresh air that we were here in Florida to enjoy.

Next to the visitor's center was a nice beach but we opted to take off down the Grove Trail that began at one end of the parking lot. We learned that a hammock is not just a netted lounger hung between trees. Patches of trees here are call a hammock forest. Our trail took us past lots of unusual trees, some with poisonous bark that you are warned off of touching, and one, ironwood, that doesn't float even in salt water, then into a clearing where there was an orchard of sorts with key lime trees, guava, and We only found a few key limes on one tree.

Across the street from the visitor's center parking was another trail, the Wild Tamarind Trail. The tamarind tree is a fast growing species common in the Keys and has small rounded leaves that create a lacy shade.

Before continuing on to the third trail in the park, we left the park to find something to eat. There is a concession stand in the park but the menu didn't appeal to us. Across the highway and not far from the entrance was a restaurant, Evelyn's, that served up great hamburgers and fish sandwiches and some of the best onion rings I've had in a while. Hunger satisfied, we headed back to the park and reentered with our receipt.

To get to the Mangrove Trail in the park, we had to drive a little farther past the visitor's center, the glass bottom boat dock, and the kayak rentals. We parked by another nice little beach and found the beginning of the trail. Unfortunately, it was being repaired and we couldn't complete the whole circuit which has a small outlook at the half-way point where you can climb up a few sets of steps and view the mangroves and channels of water that meander through the dense growth. Mangroves, by the way, are essential to the environment and ecosystem and are pretty amazing plants. Read more about them here.

In the past, we have gone diving in the marine sanctuary. There are some interesting sites to explore including the statue, Christ of the Abyss, looking up to the surface of the water with arms outstretched and of course lots of fish and marine life to observe. If you don't like getting in the water to dive or snorkel, there's the glass bottom boat.

What better way to spend the day in the middle of winter?

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...