This morning I took the Egmont Key Walking Tour that is sponsored each year by the Egmont Key Alliance. It is a small island, about three miles long, with a rich history. You can only get to Egmont Key State Park by boat, and this was a cool, clear, sunny morning here in Paradise.
I'm not a big fan of crowds or doing group things with people I don't know, but I see this island everyday through my binoculars from my chair on Treasure Island Beach and have always wondered about it.
I learned a great deal on the Egmont Key Walking Tour. I never knew this little island had so much history behind it.
Egmont Key was first charted by Spanish explorers back in the early part of the 1500's. A lighthouse was built in 1848 to guide ships safely into Tampa Bay. Both Union and Confederate soldiers occupied the island during various times of the Civil War. Fort Dade was built during the Spanish American War to protect Tampa Bay from invasion.
Between 1898 and 1916, more than 70 buildings were completed and Egmont Key contained an entire small city. You can view the foundations for a hospital, a gymnasium for the troops, a theater, post office, and a bakery.
Today, the only full-time resident is the park ranger, but the lighthouse still functions to keep ships away from harm as big tankers and cruise ships negotiate under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge into the Port of Tampa. Every 15 seconds it illuminates Egmont Key.
The island is also a National Wildlife Refuge protecting several different species of shorebirds, as well as gopher tortoises and box turtles. The entire south tip of Egmont Key, where the birds nest, is closed to the public.
Pictures from the Egmont Key Walking Tour
Once I got to Fort DeSoto Park, I just followed the signs to the beach where the Egmont Key Ferry was ready to take us across.
There were not many of us headed across for the first trip at 9:00am, but several hundred people followed later on.
We got a great view of beautiful Sunshine Skyway Bridge that runs from St Pete over to Bradenton and marks the mouth of Tampa Bay as we headed toward the island.
The trip on the ferry only took 12 minutes. If you look hard, you can see the Egmont Key lighthouse in the distance.
Coming in on the northeast side of the island, we got our first close-up view of the famous lighthouse. The first lighthouse keeper, Sherrod Edwards, moved onto Egmont Key in 1848...and he and his family had to brave a hurricane with a rowboat lashed to a palm tree in September of 1848 as water covered the island. The first lighthouse was seriously damaged. This one was built in 1858.
The Egmont Key Walking tour started at the old wharf, built by the U.S. Army to handle supplies and the mines they used to protect the channel into Tampa Bay.
It was easy to get distracted from touring the old military structures with beautiful trails heading out to the Gulf of Mexico.
Over 80 electrically-controlled mines protected the channel into Tampa Bay. They were very difficult to maintain because the salt water from the Gulf corroded the connecting cables.
Here's an office building underneath Battery Mellon which sported three 3-inch guns that were used to protect the channel into Tampa Bay against potential patrol boats or mine-sweepers.
The Egmont Key Walking Tour gave visitors on a their Florida beach vacation time to enjoy a beautiful November morning on the shore of the Gulf.
Much of the town where the troops and a few civilians lived was paved with tens of thousands of red brick. I cannot imagine how difficult it was for the road builders to grade down the soil and level the bricks. It is an engineering masterpiece. (As you can see, hurricanes and flooding have taken a toll on all of their hard work.)
I saw two different box turtles in the couple of hours I was on the Egmont Key Walking Tour. One of the guides said he's tagged over 800 in the years he's been going out there.
Ships entering Tampa Bay are required to be guided in by a member of the Tampa Bay Pilots. These homes provide temporary lodging for the pilots as they wait their turn in the rotation.
The park ranger is the only full-time resident and lives in this modest home about 100 meters from the lighthouse.
Egmont Key State Park has a small museum and an even smaller gift shop where you can purchase post cards and t-shirts.
This beautiful sign commemorates the 150 years of service for the lighthouse on the island.
The Egmont Key Walking Tour looks like it has been a great success for the Egmont Key Alliance fundraiser. The ferry was still bringing full loads of passengers over when I left to return to Fort DeSoto.