The chance to visit an island ghost town does not come around very often but for the adventure seekers to Tampa Bay. U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimates that each year 200,000 history buffs and nature lovers visit the sliver of land known as Egmont Key, now about 1.5 miles long and a quarter-mile wide and accessible only by boat or ferry. The island has been a state park since 1989.
The island played a prominent role in Florida’s Seminole Indian Wars, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. A 153-year-old working lighthouse still stands sentry, near the remnants of Fort Dade, an outpost built to protect Tampa from attack during the Spanish-American War.
Egmont has long been a haven for wildlife, including more than 30,000 bird nests a year, along with sea turtles and gopher tortoises. A cluster of cabins house on-duty pilots who guide mammoth ships through the bay to the Port of Tampa.
Significance, however, doesn’t always lead to salvation. A short distance away is Passage Key, once such a productive avian nursery that it was among the first federal bird reservations proclaimed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905.
Today it lies under water except during low tides, when it pops up briefly as a sandbar. About 10 acres of it lingered as late as 2005, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hosted an anniversary celebration there. Five years later, it was gone.
Guided tours to the island are available for groups of 5 or more and include the boat ride out to the island from downtown St. Petersburg or Pass-a-grille beach. For details or to schedule a tour to Egmont Key and the Fort Dade ruins, contact TBET at 727-379-4436.