Paddle Florida

 

The Keys Challenge
January 18-21, 2013

 

Start: Long Key State Park
End: Bahia Honda State Park
Capacity: 100 people
Distance: approx 35 miles
Registration: $275/person
Meals: $125/person
Or paddle by day: $100/person/day (incl. meals)

Before the great city of Miami existed, Henry Flagler envisioned a railroad across the sea that would promote a cultural and economic connection with Cuba, the Panama Canal and South America. Construction began in 1904. On January 22, 1912, Henry Flagler rode the railroad to Key West, where the project was heralded by the press as the "Eighth Wonder of the World." It was Flagler’s vision that makes the Florida Keys an economically viable destination. Today the Keys are a paddler’s paradise, with shallow water in five shades of blue and green. We hope you can join us to revisit Henry Flagler’s vision!

Itinerary:
January 18 – Long Key State Park
check in and set up camp. Kick-off dinner, overview of the trip and mandatory pre-launch briefing.

Day 2, Long Key State Park to Curry Hammock State Park, 11.3 miles
In this stretch, we'll pass several small islands and cross the first long section of open water. Long Key Viaduct, at 2.2 miles, was the first long crossing bridged by Flagler's railroad. This spandrel arch bridge was Flagler's favorite and became the symbol for the Overseas Railroad. Duck Key, which was bypassed by both the railroad and overseas highway, is the first large island you'll encounter.

In the early 1800s Charles Howe used the tidal creeks and pools of Duck Key for making salt. At that time, salt was the main element used in preserving meat. We will paddle to the outside of Duck Key to Tom's Harbor Keys and Grassy Key. Just past Grassy Key is Little Crawl Key and Curry Hammock State Park. Take a walk through the hardwood hammocks and view one of the largest populations of thatch palms in the United States.

Day 3, Curry Hammock State Park to Knight's Key, 11 miles
For our lunch stop, we will take a break at Sombrero Beach in Marathon. We will use the kayak launch site on the west side of the swimming beach. As a side trip, you can paddle through a labyrinth of shallow mangrove tunnels that wind through Boot Key, but be careful not to become lost! Our overnight stop is at Knight's Key Campground. We love it here!

Day 4, Knight's Key to Bahia Honda State Park, 10.8 miles to our 2103 Keys Challenge journey's end.
This is the Seven-Mile Bridge crossing we successfully navigated during our past trips. You can view the new bridge, built in 1982, as well as the longest bridge segment of Flagler's railroad still standing.

Imagine the work that went into the original bridge. Top quality cement was imported from Europe. Huge floating concrete mixers had to be used. Cofferdams were built around each column to keep out water, as workers labored to bridge the span. Several hurricanes dealt serious blows to men and machines during the overall project. The fact that the bridge remains is a testament to the quality of workmanship and materials. The new bridge is also acclaimed as a major architectural and engineering achievement.

A little over two miles down the old bridge from Knight's Key, you can stop at Pigeon Key and tour a restored village and museum (There is a fee for visiting this facility – even by kayak). Pigeon Key originally housed workers for the Flagler Railroad. Eight restored Flagler-era buildings survive. Be sure to land on the beach on the north (Gulf) side of Pigeon Key.

Our lunch stop is on Molasses Key, a private island just over half way down the Seven Mile Bridge on the Atlantic side, but far enough away from the highway to avoid most of the traffic noise. Be mindful of swift currents and the potential for strong winds when crossing these open spans of water.

Some places just seem more graced with beauty than others. Bahia Honda State Park is one of them. Arching palms frame sandy beaches and coves alongside sparkling clear water. An impressive span of the Flagler railroad bridge (the only trestle bridge along the route) across the Bahia Honda Channel gives the park a historic flavor.

This is a very popular state park, considered one of the top beaches in the world. At the far end of Sandspur Beach, don't miss the nature trail that follows the shore of a tidal lagoon. Here, you can see two national champion trees: the silver palm, a threatened species, and the yellow satinwood. The endangered lily thorn can also be seen. The park boasts one of the largest stands of silver palms in the United States.