Egmont Key State Park is a bit of heaven for boaters. The water is Caribbean-clear turquoise and the beaches on the windward (west) side are spectacular with bright white sand beaches fronting palm trees and Florida native vegetation. There’s also the remnants of a Spanish-American War era fort (did you know that was a 10-week war and the Spanish sued us for peace).
That campaign brought us the first of two Roosevelts as Presidents.
The Park is at the mouth of Tampa Bay southwest of Fort De Soto Park (for another day) and can only be accessed by private boat or the ferry that runs out from De Soto for a small fee. It also picks up up and takes you back to the mainland. Park closes at sunset.
Because of its location next to the broad, deep channel commercial tankers access the Port of Tampa, Egmont is also home to a pilot station. These stations are an onshore headquarters for Maritime Pilots who are required to man the visiting helms of any commercial vessels to and from Port of Tampa.
Very powerful boats run these Coast Pilots out to giant tankers, Cruise Ships and the like, a ladder is dropped to the speedboat and the Pilots climb into the vessels and take the helm. Can be pretty dicey on a windy day in the high seas and these guys are very specialized and well paid.
But for those of us lucky enough to have access to a power boat (I began visiting there in the early 80’s on an 18-foot catamaran, so sail vessels are an option), the fun begins when you get to shore. You can snorkel, picnic, explore the fort and terrain, collect shells, swim and then visit the other little island just to the south towards Anna Maria where folks prefer to leave their bathing suits on their boats.
A story for another day.
There’s also a scenic, working Lighthouse that was first built in 1847 because of hazardous navigation at the mouth of the everbusier bay. It had a short life as the Great Gale of 1848 swamped the island and severely damaged the Lighthouse. Apparently the Keeper of the Lighthouse survived the storm riding it out on a rowboat tied to a palmetto. The next day he rowed that boat to Fort Brooke (Fort De Soto) and handed them the keys to the place.
It was replaced in 1858.
After the completion of Fort Dade at Egmont for the Spanish-American war, it remained an active military base for many years.
In 1974 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife took over, handed it to the State of Florida and it became a State Park in 1989. The south end of the island was designated as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1974 and is closed to the public.
Egmont Key was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic places in December of 1978 and remains one of the prettiest destinations in west central Florida.
Find a way to get out there, bring lots of water and sunblock and shade, and enjoy the almost untouched Florida Spanish explorers discovered two centuries ago.
It’s another great escape and worth every minute!
Enjoy our fabulous state parks!