Be careful what you ask for! The web site for this park says "An additional 6 miles of backcountry trails are available to explore simply by completing a backcountry permit at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Ranger Station." Wanting to get in some real walking, this sounded great, so we called Pennekamp (which is an AWESOME place to kayak, by the way) and they said, "Come on over, we'll give you a permit!" Really nice people, chatty, true southern hospitality, and they wrote us up a permit - or in short, they gave us exactly what we asked for - and off we went. What we didn't realize is that the 6 miles of trails are ten miles up the road from the park that everyone else here is talking about. We didn't even know that part existed (the hazards of seeking out adventure from the tiny screen of a smart phone...). So that part may be lovely, but where we went...?
The "6 miles of trail" are actually a stretch of County Road 905 that was re-routed. You can see it on Google Earth/Satellie where C905 bends due north about a mile south of Card Point Road. The old road continues NNE, semi-overgrown but stll complete with fading paint markings, road reflectors, and a few bullet-ridden road signs. A few benches appear in the first half mile but there are otherwise no improvements. OK, so we just wanted walk, no worries, right? Well...
We proceeded to the first side trail, the "Dynamite Trail" (yes, it's really called that), the only trail that's not a road. From the map they gave us at Pennekamp, it looked like it went to the sea. Nyet. It faded out in a heath with some interesting foliage (and a lot of litter) but no view to the sea and no obvious way to get there. Backtrack to main road, continue north to crossroads of what used to be Card Sound Road (which now ends at the new C905). Turn right (east), this too looks like it goes to the sea. Nyet. It just stops, just like that, in a patch of brush thick enough you're not going onward, and there's no inkling of the sea. Backtrack, now go west, past the crossroads, continuing on old Card Sound Road which appears (again on that map) to end at an inlet or reach from the sea, hoping for some scenery. Major League Nyet! Ends at a man-made muddy ditch where the old road was dug into more like a canal to prevent passage. Ugly and again litter strewn. Back to the crossroads, decision point... do we bother trying the last stretch to the north? We opted not. Later review of Google Earth revealed it too would have simply ended in a man-made muddy canal ditch.
There was some cool foliage, but not being a botanist, I couldn't tell you what it was. We did see and photograph a beautiful Julia butterfly. But other than one pelican overhead, nary a bird. Heard one (count it, one), couldn't find it.
Positive: There aren't many places on Key Largo where you can walk for miles away from noisy Route 1. Here you can, and we did have a nice walk.
Later we drove north on C905 to the end to discover that the entire north end of Key Largo is a gated community. I am convinced that the only reason you need a back-country permit to enter this land is to assure the One-Percenters living in that gated community that no riff-raff will be allowed to sneak onto their fairways. There is serious fencing and a locked gate at the northern expanse of this land along C905 south of their gatehouse But I'm guessing that you could get into their golf course and nearby neighborhoods by walking in from the south. Otherwise this is not backcountry at least as I think of it, and there's really no reason to have to call and check in AND call back to check out with the rangers that you're taking a walk on an old road.
SO...to sum up this long-winded diatribe, what you know of as Dagney Johnson Botanical State Park may be lovely. We don't know, we never knew about that part. But if you ask about walking the "6 miles of trails" be aware of what you're asking for!
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