Florida’s Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammocks Botanical State Park was named for Dagny Johnson, a local environmentalist who fought to defend the Key Largo wetlands and natural environment. Most of the upper Keys were being developed and the park itself was supposed to become a condominium development, but Johnson worked for almost three decades to help the Upper Keys Citizens Association stop the development and save the park’s land. About a year before Johnson’s death, the park was named for her: the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammocks Botanical State Park.
The park is a wonderful way to see some of Florida’s most valuable natural treasures. It offers 2,400 acres of authentic Florida wetlands and rare plants and animals not found elsewhere. At the park visitors can experience the largest tract of West Indian tropical hardwood hammock, as well as wild cotton, mahogany mistletoe, and many other rare plants.
But the real treasure of the park is the opportunity it provides to see animals that are protected and rare. Visitors can see tree snails that feed on the bark of the tropical trees, crocodiles, and many exotic birds. In April and October, as the migratory birds travel, they fly through the park. Many other birds are residents of the park, including the white-crowned pigeon, mangrove cuckoo, and black-whiskered vireo. Other rare species are also often reported in the park, including the thick-billed vireo and more. The state park is a great place for birdwatchers to see some of the rarest birds, especially as the migrations are happening.
Perhaps the park is most famous for its wonderful butterfly garden, showcasing many different species. It holds the Schaus’ swallowtail, the silver-banded hairstreak, and hammock and mangrove skippers, as well. More information on the many different species of plants and animals at the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammocks Botanical State Park can be found at their website: http://www.floridastateparks.org/keylargohammock/default.cfm.
The state park is set up so you can do a self-guided nature tour to see all the highlights it offers. The paved half-mile trail winds through the park, ending up at the butterfly garden and the picnic tables next to it. You are able to eat at the pavilion, but there are no fires and you must pack your trash. The two tables provide a nice place to relax after walking around the park. The paved road means you can walk, bicycle, or skate; as well as being wheelchair-accessible.
In addition to the main nature trail, there are 6 other miles of backcountry trails that can be explored, if you have a permit. You may sign up and receive your permit at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Ranger Station. Most of these paths are also available for bicycling and wheelchairs, as they are either gravel or leaf-littered coral rock substrate. Along each path are signs describing what you are seeing.
If you don’t feel comfortable taking the tour alone, there are ranger guided tours as well on Thursday and Sunday mornings at 10 A.M. The rangers not only have an extensive knowledge of the animals and plants the park is home to, but will even let you touch some of the trees and plants. You may even get to taste the fruits of the tropical trees!
When planning your vacation or outing to Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammocks Botanical State Park, be sure to consider the time of year carefully. The migration patterns of the birds make October (during the southbound migration) and April (northbound) the best times to visit. The cool weather of late fall and early winter also means fewer mosquitoes in the park. If you aren’t able to come at these times, plan on wearing lots of insect repellant, long sleeves, and long pants. Also, if you are planning on doing photography while at the park you will want to take into account the lighting of the different seasons and times of day as well. The park is a great place to get some good nature shots both of the naturally beautiful surroundings and the exotic and rare animals.
The park’s entrance fee is only $1.50 per person, and the park is open every day (including holidays) from 8:00 A.M. until sundown. Pets are welcome in select areas and on a leash. You can find more information regarding the park on its website: http://www.floridastateparks.org/keylargohammock/default.cfm.