As the typical tales of Florida’s biodiverse wildlife areas go, developers had their eye on the prize. This biodiverse tropical forest in Key Largo’s northern section of the island was once slated for development. In fact, roads, buildings and a few other developed sections were built in the park.
Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, Dagny Johnson led the Upper Keys Citizens Association in protecting the 2,421 acres from developers. Almost lost to tractors and home sites, the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Botanical State Park has now become the majority of the area and 1/3 of the northern part of Key Largo. Her restoration efforts and commitment to the environment saved this enormous piece of prime real estate from developer’s careless and greedy hands. The park was named in her honor in 2003, just one year before her death.
When the land was acquired by the state of Florida in 1982, several paved roads, buildings and sewage/power lines were already in place. Today, very little of those scars on the forest remain. Buildings and roads were plowed down and replaced native trees and vegetation. Little remains of what was once an environmental disaster in the works.
Over six miles of backcountry trails can take you through the area that is host to over 80 protected and endangered species of plants and animals. Wild cotton, mahogany mistletoe and other West Indian hardwoods are scattered throughout the forest and park trails. The beautiful and rare Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly can be found here as well as the endangered American Crocodile, the only known species of crocodile in North America.
A picnic pavilion is set up from the native plant butterfly garden, making this the perfect spot to relax and enjoy a lunch watching these gorgeous creatures take flight. The picnic area is set ¼ mile down the paved nature trail, so solitude is sure to be yours for your picnic.
While the backcountry portion of the trails are closed for restoration, it will be open soon. In the meantime, paved trails are open to visitors and access for all is easy from the main parking area. For more information on Dagny Johnson Key Largo Botanical State Park, visit the website here.