Egmont Key

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Egmont Key is a Florida State Park. The park is primarily a wildlife refuge. Only portions of the park are open to the public. It is an island located in the mouth of Tampa Bay. It is accessible only by private boat.

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Don’t expect any State Park amenities when you get there. There is no restroom. There is no snack stand. There is no drinkable water. We carried 1.5 liters each for our three hour excursion. It was barely enough. It is also important to not only bring sunscreen, but to use it as well. I am sometimes guilty of bringing it but not using it.

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On the way to the island you can see the Sunshine Skyway Bridge that spans across Tampa Bay, connecting Tampa to St. Petersburg. The original southbound span collapsed in 1980 when a freighter hit one of the supporting columns. Thirty-five people died that foggy morning when their vehicles plunged into the water 150 feet below. I was 9 years old when that happened. I remember being in school that day. The local television news was playing on the intercom. I was confused about what had happened.

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Loggerhead Sea turtles nest on the island. On the boat ride to the island, my husband and daughter saw a huge one in the water. I missed it.

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We were fortunate to go on a day that the Egmont Key Alliance was having a workday. We learned things that we might not have found out. The lighthouse was first lighted in 1858. During the civil war, the original lens was removed and hid. That made it harder for the Union soldiers locate the shore. The Egmont Key Alliance is in possession of the original lamp house. It was found in the vegetation on the island. If they ever get a nice couple million dollar donation the housing can be restored and reinstalled on top of the lighthouse.

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In 1849, Egmont Key was declared a military reservation after a survey by the Army Corp of Engineers. One of the members of that survey group was Captain Robert E. Lee, who later commanded the Confederate Army during the Civil War. During the Spanish American War, there was a need for permanent coastal fortifications. There was fear that the Spanish Navy would attack the Port of Tampa.

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The war ended before Fort Dade was build on Egmont Key but the military still deemed it necessary.  In its heyday, troops at Fort Dade enjoyed a movie theater, tennis courts and a gymnasium. Above is one of four batteries on the island. Only three are accessible. The forth is in the wilderness refuge. From the satellite view, it appears to be mostly underwater. The island is losing the battle with mother nature. It is eroding away.

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There is not much evidence of the former military presence. Besides the batteries, the Guard House survived. It has been restored by the Alliance and is used to educate people about the island and the wildlife.

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There are a lot of foundations left. I believe this was the bakery. According to a member of the Alliance, the popular belief is that most of the buildings were burned down by the government or law enforcement during Prohibition. The island was being used by bootleggers.

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The island still has the original brick roads. They circle around the remaining foundations. Most foundations have markers to tell you what would have been there.

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There are also some tracks remaining. The Alliance speculates that they were used to transport supplies around the island. They are an odd size. It is unknown what sort of cart was used on the tracks. This was near the coast on the side facing the main land.

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Why do you go to an island? For your own spot of paradise. A secluded beach that you don’t have to share. The thing on the extreme left of the photo is the remains of the power plant. Most of it was in the water. The sound of the waves crashing is very relaxing. I could stay there forever.

 

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