Now visitors to Pigeon Key, the tiny and historic island in the shadow of the 7 Mile Bridge has a new attraction. The saltwater pool on the south side of the island now features a sturdy walk-around dock and is stocked with sea life.
“It’s filled with sharks and tarpon and grouper and jacks — all kinds of fish,” said Kelly McKinnon, executive director of the Pigeon Key Foundation, said it’s a welcome addition to the mission of preserving history as well as education and research. The foundation is in the process of making signage so visitors can learn about the animals featured in the saltwater pool.
“Right now, we’re doing research with the bonnethead shark,” McKinnon said.
The pool was made possible with a Tourist Development Council matching grant and the whole project cost approximately $17,000.
The five-acre island has eight buildings on the National Register of Historic Places that relate back to its earliest days as a worker camp during the construction of the Flagler’s Railroad. There’s a bunk house for educational groups that come to stay and also a small museum that once housed the bridge tender in charge of opening the swing bridge before the 7 Mile Bridge was rebuilt in the early 1980s.
Although the Old 7 Mile Bridge is still open to pedestrian traffic, the ramp leading to Pigeon Key is not. Visitors should check in at the old railroad car on Knights Key for ferry trips to the island at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Monroe County residents pay $9 each and visitors pay $12. The ticket includes a guided tour of the island and a boat ride both ways.
It’s also a good place to learn about the upcoming Pigeon Key Arts Festival held Feb. 6-7 at Marathon Community Park. It’s the largest fundraiser of the year to support the foundation.