Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Biking the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail

The 106 mile Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail (FKOHT) travels the length of the Florida Keys, from Key Largo to Key West, the southernmost point of the continental United States, running parallel to US Highway 1. It follows the right of way of Henry Flagler's railroad line, the first land transportation to Key West. 

As of September 2010, about 70 miles of the multi-use, paved trail had been completed. Riders have to share the road with vehicles for the unfinished sections which can involve narrow shoulders and fast moving vehicles.  The trail is expected to be complete in 2013 and will then offer educational kiosks, roadside picnic areas, scenic overlooks, fishing piers and catwalks, boat ramps, water access points, and businesses and services to support trail users.

So now there are three different configurations depending where you are on the route: you may be biking the completed trail sections that parallel the highway, or you may be biking on a bike lane on the highway, or you may be biking on a shoulder of varying width depending where you are.  In towns, you see people also riding on the sidewalk, and in several areas, the separate bike trail is dirt surface. Of course, most riders only do portions of the trail, not the entirety of it, so you can choose which sections to bike depending on your preferences.

I biked two segments that had actual trail, both of which offer fairly lengthy stretches of non-road travel. The first was through Key Largo to Tavernier, and the trail had separate trail on one side or the other...

...and another segment where the separate bike trail crossed the northbound lanes and ran in the median...

When in Key Largo, follow the signs to take the brief detour to see the famous African Queen boat used in the movie of the same name by Bogart and Hepburn.  It is docked and available for photos.

This interesting bridge appears near Bahia Honda Key and seems to have been old railroad tracks on the lower level and car traffic on the top.  It is currently not in operation, but it looks like it would be fun to bike it if it is ever rehabbed and open to bikes.

The second section I biked was in Marathon and then out to Pigeon Key, a tiny island two miles from Marathon. This is the historic 7 Mile Bridge that you ride for the two miles out to the tiny Pigeon Key (which charges $11 if you want to actually walk the ramp down to the landmass and have a tour) but there is no charge to use the bridge out to it...

This lengthy 7 Mile Bridge bridge was built from 1908 to 1912 as a railway bridge and then converted to automobile use in 1935.  In 1982 it was replaced by a modern highway and bridge to the left, and like many of the other replacement bridges, it arches up above the main channel to allow tall-masted vessels to pass beneath.

Many of the old, original bridges remain alongside the replacements and are used by fishermen.  The bridges that still span the entire waterway are also used by by the bike trail, so to adapt them to provide safety for all, the have been repaved, have added guard rails, and also have built fishing platforms to move the fishermen off the actual trail as seen here...

But many of the old bridges are one way out and back again because spans have been removed to allow boat traffic to pass through.

Florida's official page for this trail 

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail site

No comments: