More than a mouthful, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park was snatched from the jaws of development. This land was already under construction, slated to become a sprawling complex of houses, condos, and hotels known as Port Bougainville. Some structures had already been built, including boat slips carved into the limestone walls of an inlet. Most buildings are gone now, but remnants remain.
The Florida Keys had become a hotbed of development. Dredge and fill were the mantra of the day. Run out of land to build on? Make some more. Environmental considerations were nonexistent…until the environmentalists stepped up. This land’s champion was the late Ms. Dagny Johnson, who I find little to read about.
Today these 2421 acres are managed by their next door neighbor, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Entry is pay by honor box, currently $2.50/person. Some 84 protected species of plants and animals call this home, including American crocodiles and wild cotton. Still, this park is not at all what I expected.
The word “botanical” in the name made me think “flower gardens”, like Bok Tower Gardens or Harry P. Leu Gardens. Yeah, not so much. The word “hammock” in the name should have registered as “woodland.” While there are certainly flowers here and there, this is more like trees and bushes, such as wild coffee, mangroves, and poisonwood (Metopium toxiferum). Surely they all produce some kind of flower, just not like a flower garden. Plus it’s almost entirely in a natural state, not arranged, save a few remaining structures, like a stone wall.
The trails are beautifully wooded for the most part, except one trail that runs through mangroves and is only accessible during low tide. My wife and I followed a road of crushed shells that runs along a canal where boat slips had been cut into the Key limestone. This eventually led us out to the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail‘s Port Bougainville primitive campsite…a gorgeous spot on the coast.
Bottom line? This is a beautiful coastal forest – in the Florida Keys! – and certainly worth taking the time to explore. Take a look at the video and maps below and see for yourself. Looking for other places to enjoy Florida’s great outdoors? Check out Where-to-Go and my Bucket List of places I’ve personally explored. Then get out there and have some fun!