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BIG PINE AND THE LOWER KEYS:

"Home of the Key Deer and home of one of the Top 10 beaches in the USA"

Upon crossing the 7 mile bridge about MM40 you can look towards the east at the ocean and see Bahia Honda Key and Bahia Honda State Park and it will take your breath away. Stretching from Bahia Honda Key and its beautiful beaches through Big Pine Key to Stock Island the Lower Keys are full of attractions. Bahia Honda State Park is a great camping spot and home to many rare beautiful plants and this is one of the top 10 beaches in the USA. Continuing on Overseas Highway US 1 on the southernmost highway you can see where many films were made and look at old US1 and the old bridge and what's left of the Henry Flagler's railroad. But be careful of the wildlife and endangered species that surrounds you.

Key Deer

On the west side of US1 is No Name Key, Refuge Bay, Spanish Harbor Keys, and across Spanish Harbor Channel you enter Big Pine (MM30) and the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge. You have entered the home of the Key Deer. Key Deer are distant relatives of Virginia White-tailed deer and stand about 3 feet tall. Thanks to conservation efforts their population has risen from 50 to approximately 300. The endangered DEER ZONE on US1 is from MM33-MM30 and the speed limit is 45 MPH in the day and 35MPH at night.

Near the Key Deer national Wildlife Refuge is the Great White Heron Wildlife Refuge, the Watson Hammock Nature Preserve; and Blue Hole, the largest body of fresh water in the Keys. Looe Key Reef National Marine Sanctuary (MM30) is one of the most fascinating attractions in the Lower Keys. It is named for the H.M.S. Looe, a British frigate that sank in 1744. It is 5.3 square Nautical miles of coral reef, that is easily accessible to snorkel and scuba divers. You can see ballast stones from the shipwreck and a wide array of colorful tropical fish and coral. It has been protected since 1981 and it is acclaimed as one of the most spectacular diving spots. A complete reef ecosystem can be observed within this Marine Sanctuary.

The newest artificial reef in the Keys is the Adolphus Busch Sr. and has quickly become a viable marine habitat located halfway between Looe Key and the American Shoal, about 5 miles southwest of Big Pine. The Adolphus Busch Sr. was a 210 foot island freighter, named for the patriarch of the Busch brewing family (the beer people). It was scuttled intentionally in December 1998 in 100 feet of water. Dive on in and check it out!

At about MM 17 in Sugar Loaf Key is a local landmark the Perky Bat Tower constructed in 1929 by non-other than Richter C. Perky. It was Perky's attempt to carve out a fishing camp amidst land infested with wicked mosquitoes. According to historians, Perky built the tower and brought flocks of bats to eat the mosquitoes. The plan failed and rumor has it that the mosquitoes ate the bats! You can't fool with Mother Nature! Which is a reminder, wherever you go, in, on, or around the water or the land in the Keys remember to be cautious, courteous, and let your camera capture the memories while you leave these natural wonders untouched for future generations to share.

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Pat Ketchum

Cell: 305-923-9424

Email Pat Ketchum at Pat4KDM@aol.com



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