The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

JUNE  2011

The People News
Special Report






The Florida Keys -
An All American Tropical Paradise

by Alexandra Edwards

Winter came in with a vengeance earlier this year bringing heavier than usual snow storms to many parts of the nation as far south as Atlanta. Later, just when the south was ready for a normally pleasant Spring, severe storms stirred up several tornadoes in Tennessee and surrounding states causing massive amounts of destruction and sadly, some deaths. Due to the unusually bad weather during the past five months, many people are more than ready to take their summer vacation a little earlier than usual.

One of the great things about living in the United States is that it is possible to escape to exotic islands without the need of a passport, visa, foreign currency, vaccinations, even without an airline ticket, if preferred. Plenty of sunshine and warm summer breezes are more or less guaranteed in America's own tropical paradise, the Florida Keys. Traveler's can simply pack their favorite shorts, T-shirts, flip flops and swimsuit, fill up the car with gas, get on the interstate and just keep heading south toward Florida.

Alexandra Edwards

The Florida Keys are a group of 1,700 small islands that begin at the southeastern tip of Florida about 15 miles south of Miami and extend in an arc to the southwest Gulf Coast, then westward to the largest island, Key West, which is only 90 miles from Cuba.

Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon approached the Florida shores in the 16th century naming them Los Martires or "the martyrs." Native tribes of the islands were the Tequestas and Calusas and later the Seminoles. Spanish settlers eventually named the islands the Keys, "Cayos" meaning small islands. Florida, including the chain of keys, officially became American territory in 1821. Today local residents, particularly those of Key West, are proud for the Keys to be known as the Conch Republic, after a tongue-in-cheek secession from the U.S.A on April 23, 1982 regarding a dispute with a U.S. Border Patrol road blockade and checkpoint at the beginning of Hwy 1 which greatly inconvenienced residents and was also detrimental to tourism in the area.

With the motto "We seceded where others failed" the Florida Keys celebrate their own Independence day on April 23, have their own Conch Republic passports and drivers licenses. For more information on the Conch Republic visit

Traveling  to the Florida Keys is easy: By road, take the Florida Turnpike south to Homestead/Key West. The Turnpike extension connects to Route US 1 in Florida City, the gateway to the Keys. Route US 1 (Overseas Hwy) will take you 100 scenic miles through the Keys ending at  mile marker 0, Key West.

Now the off-season in the Keys, some great package deals are available on the Internet for those that prefer to fly. Key West and Marathon have their own airports. Major airports in close proximity to the Keys include Fort Myers Southwest Florida, ideal for the adventurous who may prefer to rent a car and continue the rest of trip along Alligator Alley through the Everglades. Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports offer a regularly scheduled shuttle bus service to the Florida Keys. 

Outdoor recreational activities are endless in the Keys, the most popular being water sports; sailing, diving and snorkeling, kayaking, jet skiing, windsurfing, paragliding, paddle boarding, swimming with the dolphins or fishing.

For those that prefer to stay on dry land, there are numerous hiking trails, cycling paths, several museums, and  plenty of interesting shops, restaurants and bars.

Starting with the upper keys, Key Largo is the first island on the  Highway 1 stretch at mile marker 100.

Though from the highway it seems a tad run down, Key Largo has some unique botanical beauty spots. Sandwiched between the Everglades National Park and  John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the beginning of the only living coral barrier reef in the US., Key Largo is known for some of the best adventurous diving, snorkeling and fishing tours in the world.

Islamorada, 'Sport Fishing Capital of the World,' is the next Key along Hwy 1. Definitely a fisherman's dream where chartered fishing tours guarantee some exceptional catches. Islamorada is not just about fishing, families can enjoy swimming with the dolphins, stingrays and sea lions at Theater of the Sea, an educational and entertaining marine animal park. For relaxation Islamorada also has tropical sandy beaches and plenty of shops, bars and restaurants.

Further along to the middle Keys is Marathon, this 10-mile-long family-oriented island with old Key charm has activities for everyone whether it be fishing, sailing, diving, snorkeling or taking a hike or jog across the old historic Seven Mile Bridge.

Henry Flagler's railway, considered an engineering marvel in it's time, made the Keys accessible from mainland Florida, and his Seven-Mile Bridge enabled tourism to flourish. Closed to all traffic in 1982 the deterioration and erosion of the bridge can be viewed while driving along the new Seven Mile Bridge and important section of U.S. Hwy 1.

For those wanting just a little more than water sports and fishing, then keep driving to the lower Keys to mile marker 0, to where the Atlantic meets the Gulf, beautiful Key West.

Key West offers all of the above activities plus beautiful beaches, various museums, sunset dinner cruises and plenty of good restaurants and bars with live entertainment for those who like to party way into the night. Most of the action is around the historical harbor district, Mallory Square, and Duval Street where the most breathtaking sunsets can be celebrated.

Don't be surprised to see wild chickens roaming the city streets, they are just part of what makes Key West history so fascinating. Regularly scheduled sightseeing tours take visitors all around the island narrating the most intriguing history of what was once Florida's largest city. Passengers on these informative tours will pass the Little White House, now a Presidential museum (where from 1946-1952 Harry S. Truman used the house 175 days as both a retreat and functioning White House), then by the unique styles of Key West's beautiful historical homes which line the city streets (many of which are laced with beautiful tropical plants and gardens), one of them being the former home of a beloved writer, Ernest Hemmingway, then on past the islands white sandy beaches to where you can view the southernmost tip of America, then back to historic Mallory Square. The tours last approximately 1.5 hours.

Key West, as far away from the mainland as it is, has managed to retain its strong American character which is probably why the locals declare, "We are both Conchs and we are Americans and we are proud to be both."

And so they should be.