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Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
Closest available address
Park is about 20 minutes south of Key Largo on Windley Key.
Park generally open Thu.-Mon. 9-5. Tours are Fri.-Sun. at 10:00am and 2:00pm.
Best time to visit
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park is a historical and nature park that opened in 1999. The main park attractions are several quarries with excellent examples of ancient coral formations. There also is a small interpretive center, and several hiking trails. The core part of the park has 32 acres; an additional 270 acres of wetlands were recently acquired.
The limestone underlying the Florida Keys were once vibrant coral reefs formed by tiny sea animals over thousands of years. When the oceans receded, the limestone became exposed and eventually debris and soil deposits enabled plants to grow. Over time this gave rise to the Florida Keys that exist today. Windley Key has one of the highest elevations of the keys and large amounts of limestone. Henry Flager purchased the current park area in 1908 and quarried thousands of tons of limestone here to be used as fill for his railroad project linking south Florida and Key West. The quarries continued to operate till 1968. The land was then sold to developers in 1979 who planned an extensive condominium development. Local conservationists mobilized to preserve the site, and Florida purchased the property in 1986 for $3.2 million.
Visiting on a windy day in winter worked well as the mosquitoes were not biting, and the temperature was pleasant. This was a much better experience than on a prior visit in the humid summertime heat and when the mosquitoes were out in force. You should probably bring mosquito repellent either way, but aim for a winter visit if you can. Also, the park was mostly empty in winter. There were just a handful of other visitors, including a few having picnics.
The interpretive center was better than average with several short films about the railroad, park habitat and the limestone formations. Additional displays had information about plants and animals and the quarries. Park staff lead guided tours on weekends, but an extensive park brochure, which is more like a notebook, is also available for a self-guided visit. If you can't make a ranger tour, the park brochure won't leave you hungry for information. There are 5 separate trails, but they only total 1.5 miles in aggregate. It's therefore easy from a time perspective to hike them all. As noted, the quarries are the main park attraction. The quarry walls were notable with easy to see ancient fossils of many sizes and shapes. If you are into geology and nature, this diverse display of ancient life will be right up your alley. An interesting factoid is that the local Hurricane Monument was made from limestone quarried here. There also is original limestone excavation machinery on site; interpretive information describes the purpose and function of the equipment. A walk on the Sunset Trail provided a good opportunity to see native plants and trees. The trees in particular were memorable because many are native Caribbean species, making one feel like being in a foreign country. While the park was relatively small and not scenic, it had appeal from a historical and nature perspective, making this a worthwhile visit. It will most interest those who like information relative to recreation. Walking around a quarry is an uncommon experience that also should appeal to kids.
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