May 23, 2018

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press
A trailhead for a quarter-mile walk through Florida Keys native growth at Green Turtle Hammock Nature Preserve in Islamorada includes a plaque honoring the Eagle Scout who cleared the path.

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press A trailhead for a quarter-mile walk through Florida Keys native growth at Green Turtle Hammock Nature Preserve in Islamorada includes a plaque honoring the Eagle Scout who cleared the path.

ISLAMORADA — Sunlight filters through the leaves of a towering gumbo limbo tree on a walk down the path through Green Turtle Hammock Nature Preserve, a route that winds past a classic Florida Keys homestead before reaching Florida Bay. 

Along the way, hiking signs beckon visitors onto marked trails, relatively short, to explore the Upper Matecumbe Key hammock. 

A basin and channel, once used by boaters but now limited to swimmers and paddlesport enthusiasts, provides access to open water. Snapper, mullet and the occasional tarpon can be seen there. 

On shore, signs caution that a protected American crocodile visits now and again.

That didn’t bother Wayne Sronce, an Islamorada artist and framemaker, taking a swim last Wednesday with his rescue pooch, Cayo. 

“This place is amazing,” Sronce said. “I’ve lived here 18 years and found out about it not long ago.”

“A hidden gem” is the oft-repeated phrase on a handful of online postings on Green Turtle Hammock, part of Islamorada’s network of village parks. Look carefully for the small entry sign near mile marker 81.2, off southbound U.S. 1. 

Islamorada acquired the 8.7-acre property in 2006, in part with a $4.7 million grant from the Public Lands project of the Florida Communities Trust to protect “tropical hardwoods and waterfront access, located on an historical property.”

A concrete home overlooking the basin, where the former owners once lived and was later used as conservation-group offices, now has been closed off due to severe structural problems. 

On Earth Day 2009, several environmental groups and agencies came together at a public event to celebrate the protection of the Green Turtle Hammock. The historic wooden settlers’ house would emerge as a glimpse of early Keys history, advocates planned. 

The Green Turtle Hammock Foundation formed in 2008 “to encourage, foster and conduct programs for the continuing education on the history of Green Turtle Hammock,” and promote other conservation-related activities. The foundation went inactive in 2012, state records indicate.

Islamorada still has plans for Green Turtle Hammock, Village Manager Seth Lawless said last week. 

In December 2016, consultants presented the Village Council with potential master development plans for Green Turtle Hammock and the nearby Key Tree Cactus Preserve.

The plans “show what we’ve got, and what would be required” to realize an improved park with features including an elevated boardwalk and waterfront observation tower, Lawless said.

“When construction is involved, sometimes these things move along pretty slowly,” he added.

For now, Green Turtle Hammock Nature Preserve is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Dogs on leashes are welcome. Alcohol and glass bottles are prohibited, along with overnight camping, powerboats, grills and trailers (the dirt roads are narrow and turn sharply).

For more information, contact the village’s parks office at 305-853-1685.

kwadlow@keysnews.com