Monday, May 09, 2011

Egmont Key (Part I)

A couple of days after we'd checked in to our campsite at Fort DeSoto Park near Tampa/St. Pete, we hopped on the ferry that takes you over to Egmont Key. The island is accessible only by water and is the site of a former military fort that was expanded with a complete town just prior to and following the Spanish-American War. These days no one but a state park ranger lives on the island, but in its day the town was vast, complete with a movie theater, shops, bank, homes, warehouses, barns, a power plant, etc.

Most of the structures from the days as a military base are gone, and even the fortified concrete gun implacements are deteriorating. Some of the concrete fortifications have even fallen into the sea due to the severe beach erosion. From what I can gather, the island has shrunk by about a third since its days as an important Florida fort. The power plant now lies far out to sea where it has been flooded for more than a quarter of a century and is now covered in soft corals.

What does remain of the town of Egmont Key are the main forts, many foundations, some standing walls and towers, a light house, and a maze of truly spectacular brick streets that take up the central part of the island. If you're in the area, you should definitely take the time to gain access to the park to see what remains of this relic of the Spanish-American War. There is a tremendous wealth of bird life on Egmont Key, and it's also a refuge for the threatened Gopher tortoise.

When we arrived at the pier to board the ferry, we saw this pair of green parrots on the line above us. I assume that these are invasive birds, as I don't ever recall seeing parrots in Florida before this.

This is the pier where the ferry picked us up. There's a gangway leading down to a floating dock. For some reason I forgot to take a photo of the ferry.

The young manatee that we passed as we were heading out to Egmont Key.

Carole aboard the passenger ferry. The couple behind her were amateur birders/herpetologists. They were there specifically to see the gopher tortoises on the island.

Getting closer to Egmont Key.

A loggerhead sea turtle that was passing us as we approached Egmont Key. He did not care for us at all, took a breath and dove for cover.

The main dock at the light house and the ranger's residence. We didn't tie up there. Instead the captain just grounded the ferry and lowered a gangplank and we marched down to the beach.

Carole at the light house.

Almost as soon as we got off the boat we encountered this gopher tortoise munching on grass. He was quite friendly and kept walking up to us. I suspect some visitors habitually feed him.

I got this shot while standing in the shade of the light house.

This is one of the first forts you encounter on the trail leading toward the beach.

Sign warning hikers off of protected areas.

Some of the native plants colonizing the dunes around the old fortifications.

The second fort.

People obviously spent some amount of time in some of the fort rooms. Several had fireplaces installed.

Concrete trail leading down to the last and most accessible fort.

Carole at the final fort. This is the only fort you're allowed to climb.

This view reminded me of some Mayan ruin.

On top you can see old gun turrets, and wonderful views of the Gulf.

The love bugs were everywhere! At times you literally could not breathe through your mouth, else you'd ingest them.

The weather was very pleasant, but I'm sure these concrete hallways would be cool and inviting on a hot summer day.

Headed back down the trail toward the site of the old town.

Foundations are all that remain of the administrative buildings, homes, and shops.

These old towers had osprey nests with chicks in them.

Part of the old sewer system. For its day, it was state of the art.

From descriptions, I'd thought that the brick streets were brief and a single lane near the center of the town. I was wrong. They were wide and varied and extensive, running for miles throughout the island. The town had been much larger than I'd been led to believe.

Carole took this of me standing in one of the main streets. (More details in later posts...)


Kent Tankersley said...

Wow, another place I would love to visit. Manatees, turtles -- Florida has so much fantastic wildlife.

James Robert Smith said...

We got a huge kick out of the place. And it's one park that we'd like to visit again.