Updated: Oct. 20, 2017
FLORIDA KEYS -- The Florida Keys showcase their resilient spirit through a number of special events following the island chain’s Oct. 1 reopening to visitors after hurricane Irma.
Events taking place as planned, hailed as a significant step in the island chain’s recovery from Irma’s Sept. 10 passage, include Key Largo’s Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, that continues through Sunday, Key West’s Fantasy Fest, continuing through Sunday, Oct. 29, and Marathon’s Saturday Stone Crab Eating Contest.
Local officials credited the reopening, just three weeks after Irma’s passage, to completion of significant infrastructure repairs, restoration of utilities, and necessity of resuming the tourism-driven economy that employs about 50 percent of the Keys workforce.
“By welcoming visitors to the destination, it provides the jobs and the hope that our residents are looking for so they can begin to rebuild their lives,” said Stacey Mitchell, director of marketing for the Florida Keys tourism council.
While Key Largo and Key West were least affected by the storm, not all lodging properties, including RV resorts, and other tourism facilities throughout the Keys are operating on a normal basis. Potential visitors should call ahead to ensure that hotels and their favorite attractions are open.
Recovery efforts continue, especially in the Lower Keys and parts of Marathon where many residences and businesses were hardest hit by the storm. Visitors are advised not to drive through neighboorhoods in those areas in order to not interfere with work. In addition, debris continues to be picked up from the shoulders of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway.
Key West and Marathon airports are open, the Port of Key West is hosting cruise ships and the Florida Keys Overseas Highway is readily drivable for motorists throughout the 125-mile island chain.
Even Key West’s Southernmost Point marker, an iconic photo stop that designates the continental United States’ southernmost land mass, is being repainted after damage from Irma.
Some Keys-based Florida State Parks have reopened, including Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park near Islamorada, Marathon's Curry Hammock State Park, Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West and Key Largo's iconic John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Some parks are not yet fully operational.
“It’s been a road of recovery and continues to be so, but we’ve made enough progress where the infrastructure is ready to accept visitors,” said Mitchell. “By the visitors coming down, they’re helping in the recovery and being part of that process.”
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS (1-800-352-5397)
Florida Keys recovery information: keysrecovery.org
The sun begins to rise over the Atlantic Ocean Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Islamorada. Image: Andy Newman
“Irma,” a baby loggerhead sea turtle, is cleaned with a toothbrush Oct. 11, 2017, in Marathon. Found along U.S. 1 on Sept. 11, “Irma” should be released with other hatchlings in the next few weeks. Image: Andy Newman
Divers examine a trumpet fish Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo. Image: Frazier Nivens