A Key deer eyes her surroundings on Big Pine Key. ANDY NEWMAN/Florida Keys News Bureau

Chances of spotting petite, cute Key deer are high as runners and walkers prepare to trek the picturesque National Key Deer Refuge on Saturday, Feb. 17. 

Now in its eighth year, the Run with Deer on Big Pine Key is organized by the Florida Keys Wildlife Society, the official friends group for the Keys National Wildlife Refuges, in conjunction with the Southernmost Runners Club. Annually, the 5k run and walk welcomes roughly 250 participants to the Lower Keys, with proceeds supporting programming, projects, cleanups and other initiatives. 

“We do things for the refuge like purchase webcams and install an electrical system for resident campers who work at the refuge,” said Kathy Rhodes, board chair for the Wildlife Society. 

Stretching 100 miles, the Key Deer Refuge extends south and west from south Florida. It’s home to more than 20 endangered and threatened plant and animal species like Key deer. 

The official friends of the National Wildlife Refuges in the Florida Keys was founded in 1997 by 150 local citizens who were concerned about funding and overall care for the Keys refuges. In 2017, the group celebrated its 20th anniversary and was renamed the Florida Keys Wildlife Society to better define its role and support of wildlife in the Keys. 

“It’s an all-volunteer organization, and we’re always looking for help to run the nature store and events like this 5k,” Rhodes said. 

Pre-registration will take place Friday, Feb. 16 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Refuge Nature Center on Big Pine Key. The race welcomes everyone under the age of 9 to those over 70 years old. Participants can also register on the day of the race on Saturday, Feb. 17 between 7 and 7:45 a.m. at Big Pine Community Park, 31009 Atlantis Dr. Runners and walkers will take off from the starting line at 8 a.m. 

Awards will be given to top male and female runners and walkers, as well as first- and second-place finishers in each age group. A new award will be given to a race participant with the best costume. Organizers encourage all runners and walkers to dress as a Key deer or other wildlife species. 
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Jim McCarthy
Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.