Acquired by the city of Islamorada in 2006 with the help of the Florida Communities Trust, this 8.7-acre gem is largely a dense thicket of tropical hammock surrounding two homes.
One is a more modern one adjoining a boat basin where the canoe launch is now located. The condition of that home has rendered it unusable.
The historic pioneer home just inside the gates is used by the city for offices, but it makes a lovely setting for a park.
Playground equipment sits in the front yard, while picnic tables are under the shade of a royal poinciana tree adjoining the house.
While the trails are gentle and the hike is short, the rockland tropical hammock habitat – endangered in Florida – has some surprises along this walk.
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Length: 0.4 mile loop
Trailhead: 24.9106, -80.6446
Address: MM 81.2 bayside
Restroom: portable toilet in parking area
Land manager: City of Islamorada
Open 8 AM to 5 PM daily. Leashed pets welcome, but be aware there are crocodile warnings along this trail. Park only in the designated area just inside the gates.
There is a canoe launch along the road that loops through the middle of the preserve, but you need to drop off your canoe at the launch and park back near the exit gate.
The preserve is right along the Overseas Heritage Trail, but bicycles are not recommended on the trail because it is narrow and has lots of poisonwood along it.
The preserve is at MM 81.2 along the bay side of the Overseas Highway (US 1) on Upper Matecumbe Key. Southbound, look for the driveway immediately after the entrance to the Kon Tiki Resort.
While the hiking loop is less than a half mile, you see a lot along this very compact series of trails.
It showcases what is left of a tropical rockland hammock on Upper Matecumbe Key, a habitat that once blanketed the island.
Four hiker symbol signs note entrances to the trail network off the driving loop around the park. Start at the one closest to the historic home, on the right, just inside the gate.
One thing about hiking in a Florida Keys tropical rockland hammock: you need to know your trees. This is not a habitat you should bushwhack through.
On the first part of this loop, the trail is extremely narrow as it twists and winds between the trunks of the tropical trees, coming very close to the oozing trunks of poisonwood trees. Avoid brushing against them.
Keys tree cactus grows out of a rocky outcropping along the trail, and you’ll see it a little farther down the trail intertwined with tree trunks.
If the trail briefly falls faint, look through the deadfall on it to find it again, just a worn groove in the leaf litter on the forest floor.
The distinct smell of sulfur arises from the earth where the trail loops around a karst depression, a solution hole that drops into a small cave which is emitting these fumes.
We figure there is a spring beneath the rocks. No water is in evidence, however.
There are pieces of rock along the edges of the footpath, which is more well defined here as it comes up to the back side of a maintenance building. Turn right.
Pop out into an open area along the boat basin constructed by the homeowners. Signs warn of a known crocodile in the area.
Turn right at the hiker symbol sign to the right. The trail follows the ecotone between the mangroves and the rockland tropical hammock, eventually looping back around to join in with the trail you were on before.
Continue straight ahead, emerging behind the building again. Walk across the open area this time, between the house and the boat basin, to another hiker symbol sign.
It is accompanied by a smaller sign about the nature trail being an Eagle Scout project. While many of the plants were identified when the trail was established, rain and weathering has made most of the little handpainted signs unreadable.
Another well-built path, this one follows wood chips through a part of the hammock where the homeowners planted ornamentals, starting with a lot of snake plants (also known as mother-in-law’s tongue).
You pass more identification signs next to trees in the hammock, some of which can be read, like Inkwood. At the “Trail Split” sign, stay to the right.
This trail curves through the hammock and passes a bench before emerging out near the exit gate of the preserve, within sight of the playground equipment and parking. Cross the little park in front of the pioneer home to wrap up your walk.
According to an article in the Keys News, opportunities for exploring the preserve may grow.
Plans are to include a boardwalk and observation tower if Islamorada moves forward with master plans for the preserve. Keep us posted in the comments if any further improvements are added to the park.
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More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
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