Florida Keys: Marathon
Marathon Key, heart of the Florida Keys, is home to Crane Point Hammock, a 63-acre land tract that is one of the most important ecological, historical and archaeological sites in the Keys.
The area contains evidence of pre-Colombian and prehistoric Bahamian artifacts and was once the site of an entire Indian village.
Vacationers can explore these and other historical landmarks at the Museum of Natural History of the Florida Keys and the adjacent children’s museum, the first of its kind in the Keys.
The blue-green panorama of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, dotted with lobster traps and sailboats, is not unlike the scene that greeted passengers on Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad, which linked the Keys to mainland Florida from 1912 until 1935. Those passengers probably took little notice of the sparsely populated island at the northeastern foot of the Seven Mile Bridge. Today, this island offers some of the best fishing and sport diving anywhere in the world. This is Marathon, the ‘Heart of the Florida Keys.’
Marathon has blossomed into a small city centered on the island of Vaca Key at the midpoint of the Keys island chain. It boasts homey resorts, luxury accommodations, and the conveniences of a modern community including plenty of shopping opportunities. At the same time, Marathon has retained the charm of its roots as a 19th-century fishing village. Before dusk, residents and visitors alike gather at boat docks to survey fishermen’s daily catch and often the entrée for their evening meal. Numerous certified charter boat captains take visitors diving, snorkeling, fishing, sailing and touring along the only living coral reef in North America, several miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.
For landlubbers, an 18-hole championship golf course is open to members of country clubs elsewhere, with proper club identification. And all the trappings of outdoor subtropical living abound in Marathon – from bicycling to lounging on a hammock in the shade.
Marathon is home to Crane Point Hammock, a 63.5-acre land tract that is one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in the Keys. The area contains evidence of pre-Colombian and prehistoric Bahamian artifacts, and once was the site of an entire Indian village. On site is the Museum of Natural History of the Florida Keys and an adjoining children’s museum.
Another historical site, recently opened to the public is Pigeon Key, a tiny five-acre island nestled below the old Seven Mile Bridge. Step onto Pigeon Key and step back into history to the key that was home to the men that built Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad.
Marathon also is home to the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital. Both play important roles in the preservation of indigenous Keys’ marine life. Utilizing Marathon as a home base, visitors may take easy day trips to Key West and the Upper Keys. No island or attraction in the Keys is more than 60 minutes away. And just south of Marathon, the new Seven Mile Bridge, which runs parallel to its venerable forerunner, is the longest segmental bridge in the world.
Each year, in April, Marathon hosts the annual Seven Mile Bridge Run, with 1,500 running aficionados competing in a foot race over the azure waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
For a close encounter of the unforgettable kind, try swimming with friendly dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key.
The center is one of three facilities in the Keys that provide visitors with an opportunity to interact with the intelligent and curious animals. It also serves as a retirement home for dolphins from other aquariums and as a hospital for sick and wounded dolphins.