Called the "crown jewel of the state park system," divers, snorkelers and Keys visitors can thank the late Miami Herald editor John Pennekamp for helping to create the first undersea park in the United States, dedicated December 10, 1960.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park recently celebrated its 50th anniversary on Dec. 10, 2010. Noted divers descended on the iconic underwater Christ of the Abyss statue to place a commemorative garland to mark the milestone of America's first underwater preserve, including famed oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Pat Wells, manager of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and Billy Causey, regional director for NOAA's national marine sanctuaries.
"It's the oldest underwater park, not just in Florida, not just in the U.S., but it set a precedent for the world," said Earle. "This protected area where even the fish have a safe haven, is a gift to the world."
Make time to rediscover Key Largo's gem and experience the Park's underwater attractions, beaches, canoe, kayak and boat rentals and nature trails. The park has 47 campsites, all with electrical hookups and water. The park encompasses some 63,845 acres covering uplands and submerged areas.
Visitors also can enjoy the park's popular water activities including viewing the reef on glass-bottom-boat or snorkel and scuba tours, as well as canoeing and kayaking on mangrove-lined waterways.
A visitor center featuring a refurbished 30,000-gallon aquarium, as well as nature trails, picnic pavilions and two beaches round out the variety of offerings at Pennekamp.
Learn More About John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
A famous marine preserve encompassing 70 square miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamps, a popular beach and marina lie just inside the park's entrance at mile marker 102.5, but the park extends three miles offshore, and traveling by boat to get there you'll pass uninhabited mangrove islands, winding creeks and shallow reefs, all which provide marine nurseries for the stunning, large coral-reef formations offshore.
Explore 75 years of history for Florida's state parks, providing recreation while preserving, interpreting and restoring natural and cultural resources.