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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 Journey

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.

The Destinations

Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock State Park is a West Indian tropical hardwood hammock and home to 84 protected species of plants and animals.

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 closer view.

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 snorkelers.

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 mangrove shoreline.

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.

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