The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail
It's commonly held that "It's the journey, not the
destination." For travelers to the Florida Keys, nature exploration and
appreciation can be both. The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage
Trail creates the path for a journey that spans this subtropical
archipelago, linking an array of natural destinations.
The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, an integral
part of the Florida Keys Scenic Highway Project, is a multi-use bicycle and
pedestrian trail that runs parallel to US 1 from Key Largo to Key West.
Although sections of it are still being developed, ultimately it will be a
scenic corridor that serves not only as a highway, but a recreational
greenway with access to launch sites for sea-kayaking.
The Old Keys Bridges serve as a central component,
providing opportunities for sightseeing, recreation and historical
reflection. Originally constructed as part of the Flagler Railroad in
the early 20th century, the 23 bridges that remain are listed on the
National Registry of Historic Places.
The bridges are particularly popular for fishing and
are being customized with fishing platforms. The structures add extra
space from which anglers can cast their lines without disruption from
pedestrians and bicyclists - or vice versa. A number of fishing
platforms were constructed this past year on Tom's Harbor Cut Historic
Bridge and more are planned for several other Upper Keys historic bridges.
The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail links
environmental destinations such as the Everglades National Park, Biscayne
National Park, The Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, Key Deer
National Wildlife Refuge, Crocodile Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and the
Florida Keys, seven of which serve as trailheads.
Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock State Park is a West
Indian tropical hardwood hammock and home to 84 protected species of plants
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was the first
underwater park in the United States. Visitors can discover coral
reefs and tropical hammocks during a glass-bottom boat ride or dive in for a
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park is on
an island composed of Key Largo limestone, a type of fossilized coral formed
125,000 years ago.
Indian Key Historic State Park was the first county
seat of Dade County and once a center for a shipwreck salvaging business.
Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park is a 280-acre
island, home to one of the few remaining virgin tropical hardwood hammocks.
San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve hosts
the remains of a submerged shipwreck, accessible only by divers and
Long Key State Park offers some of the best bone
fishing in the Key and camping along the shore.
Curry Hammock State Park provides public access to swimming, a playground and picnic area on the ocean side of Little Crawl Key.
Bahia Honda State Park is best known for its
beautiful beaches, magnificent sunsets and great snorkeling.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is home to a
Civil War-era fortress. Rangers guide tours daily at noon and 2PM.
The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, which opened
in January 2007, treats visitors to an exciting array of interactive exhibits
featuring the rich natural environment of the Keys. One highlight is
the Aquarius exhibit, a model of an actual underwater research habitat in
the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, more than 3 miles offshore and
60 feet deep. In the Aquarius, visitors learn how scientist live and study in the laboratory, experiencing the same sights and sounds.
Colorful marine artwork depicting the deep sea, coral
reef and mangrove shoreline decorates the outside wall of the Eco-Discovery
Center. Displays describe the ecology of the Florida Keys - From the
upland pinelands through the hardwood hammock, to the beach dune and
Visitors "enter the sea" to learn about sea-grass
flats, hard-bottom, coral reef and deep ocean shelf communities. Touch
screens with colorful photos and interesting facts about marine life make
this section come alive. A high-definition theater features screenings
of a 17-,minute video about the sanctuary . Located at the Dr. Nancy
Foster Florida Keys Environmental Complex, the Eco-Discovery Center is open
Tuesday through Saturday, from 9AM to 4PM; closed on Thanksgiving and
Christmas. Admission is free.