A short interpretive trail providing a round-trip walk to a freshwater wetland in the unusual pine rockland habitat of Big Pine Key, the Mannillo Trail gives an overview of the importance of National Key Deer Refuge in protecting both habitat and wildlife in the Lower Keys.
Location: Big Pine Key
Length: 0.3 mile
Lat-Lon: 24.7094, -81.3824
Bug Factor: moderate to annoying
Open daily from a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset. Bicycles are not permitted on the trail, and pets are not advised so as not to scare away wildlife. Please stay within the marked path to avoid brushing into any poisonwood, which is found all over Big Pine Key and is right along this trail.
From US 1, follow Key Deer Boulevard past the shopping center where the refuge visitor center is located. Pay attention to the speed limit as they are slow for a reason: you may see Key deer cross the road along this stretch, especially at dusk and dawn. A bike path parallels the road the length of the refuge, so you can also park at the visitor center and bike up to the trails. Be sure to lock your bike if you go for a hike. The turnoff for the parking area is on the left past Blue Hole, 3.2 miles from the visitor center. This trail adjoins the longer Watson Trail at the same trailhead.
A map is displayed at the Wildlife Trails kiosk. Although it may not look accessible, the Frederick C. Mannillo Jr. Trail is made of hard-packed limestone gravel, suitable for wheelchairs. An advocate for both wildlife and accessibility, this short trail honors his legacy. Of the two trails at the Wildlife Trails trailhead, this one provides plenty of intepretation about Key deer habitat in a very compact space. Several benches provide resting spots for those who need a gentle walk.
0.0 > Pick up a brochure at the kiosk for an overview of the trail and the ecosystems along it. You’re in pine rocklands, where you have saw palmetto and gnarled and stunted slash pines at the southernmost extent of their range. Surface limestone and loose rock is obvious throughout openings in the forest.
0.1 > Trail’s end is at a boardwalk and observation deck overlooking a freshwater wetland cradled in the jagged karst. The colorful pink blooms of glades lobelia sway in the breeze. Looking down as you leave the deck, you see many smaller depressions in the limestone, which trap precious rainwater and create havens for wildlife.
Continue along the winding path, retracing your steps, taking time to read the interpretive panels if you have not already done so. Keep alert to any rustling in the understory, too.
0.3 > Passing a detailed interpretive panel about the hydrology of the Florida Keys – which is well worth paying attention to in order to understand the importance of the limestone karst to the health of these fossilized coral islands – you pass a solution hole with ladder brake fern growing out of it. Return to the Wildlife Trails trailhead.
The Mannillo Trail is the YELLOW trail shown on the map below.