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The Florida Keys: Marathon

The Heart of the Florida Keys

By

Seven Mile Bridge
Compliments of Andy Newman, TDC
The allure of the Islands of Marathon – the midway point of the Florida Keys, an hour's drive from Key West and Key Largo – emanates from its fascinating history and environmental attractions. The Middle Keys comprise Conch Key, Duck Key, Grassy Key, the Crawl keys, Key Colony Beach, Key Vaca, Fat Deer Key, Knight's Key and Pigeon Key.

Settlements on the Islands of Marathon can be traced back to the early 1800s, when Bahamians established tropical-fruit farms and New England fishermen inhabited the region. In 1908, Henry Flagler's Overseas Railway reached Key Vaca, home to the village of Marathon and headquarters of the railroad's final Key West extension.

Spanning from Key Vaca to Sunshine Key is the area's most noted attraction, the Seven Mile Bridge, one of the longest segmental bridges in the world.

The Old Seven-Mile Bridge, running parallel to the modern span, was the final installment of Henry Flagler's Overseas Railway and a turn-of-the-century marvel that took four years to construct. The spirit of this trestle's past lingers still on five-acre Pigeon Key, below the bridge two miles west of Marathon. The island's museum contains artifacts from the Florida Keys railroad era, along with an antique postcard exhibit and photos depicting early life on Pigeon Key.

Throughout the region environmental attractions provide visitors opportunities to swim with dolphins, pet an iguana, explore a hardwood hammock and rain forest, stroll white sand beaches and enjoy an abundance of watersports activities.

World-class sport fishing is available offshore, on the reef and flats, along the bridges and in nearby Everglades National Park. Snorkel and scuba dive excursions can fulfill most divers' appetites, while kayak aficionados can paddle through the solitude of local backcountry waters.

Additionally, visitors can charter a sailboat, play golf and tennis, take in the theater and eat at one of the many fine restaurants.

The islands of Marathon also offer opportunities to tool around on mopeds, visit a sea turtle hospital, take water-taxi tours and visit a traveling pirate museum.

Marathon has a commercial airport, served by American Eagle with connecting flights from Miami International Airport. Two fixed-base operators offer private aircraft accessibility.

The region is approximately a 2.5-hour drive from Miami International Airport, and a one-hour drive from Key West International Airport.

For more information, write the Marathon Chamber of Commerce at 12222 Overseas Highway, Marathon, FL, 33050; call 1-800-842-9580 or (305) 743-5417; or, stop by the Marathon Visitor Center at mile marker (MM) 54 bayside.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO ON THE ISLANDS OF MARATHON

Dolphin Connection, MM 61, oceanside, Hawk's Cay Resort, Duck Key. Hawk's Cay Resort and non-resort guests can interact directly with the dolphins in either a saltwater lagoon or dockside encounter. Call 305-734-7000 or toll free 888-443-6393 or visit online www.hawscay.com for more information.

The Dolphin Research Center, MM 59, bayside, Grassy Key. The center's Dolphin Encounter includes swimming with dolphins, but an alternative is DolphinSplash, a wade-in program that offers the oportunity to get waist-deep in the water with the resident dolphines. Also available are Meet the Dolphin and Paint with A Dolphin interactive programs. For more information call 305-289-0002 or visit online at www.dolphins.org.

Curry Hammock State Park, MM 56.2, oceanside, Little Crawl Key. Fishing, swimming and picnicking are available at this waterfront park. Visit online at www.floridastateparks.org/curryhammock.

Key Colony Beach Golf & Tennis, 8th Street at MM 53.5, Key Colony Beach. A nine-hole, par-3 public course is open seven days a week, along with two lighted hard courts. Call 305-289-1533 for more information.

Boot Key Harbor, MM 49, oceanside, Marathon. One of the United States' rare protected harbors with nearby docks, launching ramp, fuel, boat rentals and restaurants.

Crane Point, MM 50.5 bayside, Marathon. A 63.5-acre tract that is one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in the Keys. Crane Point contains evidence of pre-Columbian and prehistoric Bahamian artifacts and was once the site of an entire Indian village. The Museums of Crane Point include the Museum of Natural History of the Florida Keys and the Florida Keys Children's Museum. For more information call 305-743-9100 or visit online www.cranepoint.net.

Sombrero Beach, Sombrero Boulevard at MM 50, oceanside, Marathon. A public beach with picnic facilities and children's playground.

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