Anclote Key Preserve State Park is one of the few state parks that can only be accessed by water vessel. Located 3 mile off the Coast of Tarpon Springs in the heavily populated County of Pinellas, you can experience the beauty of Florida’s natural beaches at its finest.
It was a typical summer day with small patches of rain clouds scattered throughout the area. I decided to take my chances with the weather. I launched my kayak in the early morn to avoid the crowds that so commonly convene at Fred Howard Beach on a Saturday. Fred Howard Park has a small beach island that has a long causeway built to access it by Mr. Howard, who was a former Mayor of Tarpon Springs and very active in preservation of land in north Pinellas County. From this beach to the south tip of Anclote Key it is 2 miles due west. I paddled through a shallow estuary and was amused at the sea grasses, aquatic plants, and little sponges that were less then three feet under my kayak. Having attended Tarpon High School in my former years, I was under the impression that the mighty Sponger, our school mascot, was a brave diver that had to venture out into the deep sea to acquire these precious little commodities. Seagulls and dolphins kept me entertained on my paddle out into the Gulf. I had to pause at the boat channel to yield the right-of-way to the speed boaters. After watching the dolphins swim though the boat channel, I was angry that these amateur weekend boaters had to zip by so fast. Soon I arrived at the east side of the Island. The shores were lined thickly with mangroves. I decided to paddle into a small shady estuary to rest and grab a bite of lunch. To my surprise, the mangroves were harboring many large wading birds. The first large tree had 5 spoonbill perched under the branches. I paddled further down and spotted a spoonbill, a reddish Egret and a Little Blue Heron all perched only a few feet from each other. The Little Blue Heron did not seem to mind the Roseate Spoonbill, but the Reddish Egret gave him a stare as if he were an unwelcome intruder. I was ecstatic I was able to experience the whole dynamic of this seemingly crowded roosting spot. This was a treasure chest of birds here in the mangroves! A birders delight! I wish I had the energy to paddle the whole length of the 4 mile long key to see who else was lurking in the mangroves.
After gulping down my lunch, I noticed a storm was moving this way. It appeared that it was only going to clip the south end of the Island. My plan was to anchor my kayak at the Lighthouse boardwalk and trek northward on this thin sliver of paradise. I followed the boardwalk to the Lighthouse and then out to the beach. The wheat colored sea-oats were in full bloom and made a scenic contrast with the white sugar sand and blue waters. I paused for moment to take in the view. From here I needed to press on northward for there is hardly any shelter on this island. My GPS read two miles when I observed that I was at the halfway point. I turned to watch the wind and rains blow from west to east at the South end. I could see the end of the storm and was relieved I was able to escape its wrath. Soon I felt it was safe to retrace my steps back to my kayak but I took my time exploring the beach. Colorful sand dollars and various shells are left behind when the gulf waters reside back into the sea. A small boat was buried in the sand 100 feet from the shoreline with only the top of the cab protruding from the surface. I can only imagine the story behind that shipwreck. Probably caught in a fast moving storm…..like the one I just escaped myself.
Soon I was back to the small picnic area built as a convienence for visitors who ride the Fairy Boat over to view the lighthouse. The Light House has a History all of its own but has recently been renovated and is now open to the public. I was happy to have the Island all to myself on a Saturday. Conveniently, the storms kept the people at bay. I sat for a few moment to enjoy a snack after my two mile paddle and four mile hike.
It was getting late and I knew I needed an hour of daylight to paddle back safely. As I venture down the lighthouse boardwalk, I noticed people were now occupying the South beach. The small boat parties had set up a grill and were enjoying the shorebirds. Oyster catchers, skimmers, turns and gulls were in abundance in the muck left uncovered from the receding waters. A young reddish egret staked his territory to hunt fish in the shoreline puddles as a couple proceeded to walk by holding hands enjoying a romantic stroll. By now I was much too tired to take anymore photographs. I just appreciated the birds as I dragged my kayak 50 feet to the nearest waters edge. Exhausted but happy with the day spent on the island, I aimed my bow toward that little County Beach of an island and worked hard to keep course as dusk set in.
About: The Anclote Key Lighthouse located on the South end of the Island is one of the Islands Point of Interest as it was built in 1886 by President Grover Cleveland. There is a boardwalk that leads you to the lighthouse and out to a picknic area with shelter, grills, tables and a composting toilet. You can chose to venture out on the island trail which eventually leads you out to the beach. A primitive camping area is located at the northern end of the island. There is no running water or trash receptacle so bring plenty of water and observe the Leave -no -trace ethic to keep this island in is fine state