Old 7 Mile Bridge
How many times have you driven across the iconic 7 mile bridge connecting Marathon Key to the lower Florida Keys, never stopping to walk the old 7 mile bridge?
I’ve driven down the Overseas Highway and over this bridge more than a dozen times. With Caribbean blue water stretching out in all directions, I carefully scan from side to side to take in the views. On one side, the Atlantic Ocean reaches to the horizon. On the other, I can see mangrove islands dotting the shallow waters of Florida Bay. I’ve even sailed under this grand Florida Keys structure on the way to the Bahamas. Now I’ve finally walked along the old 7 mile bridge structure with a new appreciation for Flagler’s biggest achievement — connecting Key West to the mainland.
Old 7 Mile Bridge
If you are heading southbound, the Old Seven Mile Bridge park is located on the right hand side of US 1. At approximately MM45, just before reaching the current bridge. With traffic speeding up as it approaches the bridge, it’s best to slow down early. Everyone’s barreling down to Key West and not expecting you to pull over into that short turn lane.
When we arrived, the parking lot was full. Spying a small spot on the grass under a palm tree we made our own spot. Nice to have the car in the shade! Walking through the parking lot, fishermen kept crossing our path on their way down the embankment to claim their spot on the shore. No fishing allowed from the bridge, but with the number of poles I could see along the side, I’m guessing it’s a good place to catch dinner.
My first impression of the bridge was the lack of maintenance along the railings. They’re rusty and gave me the feeling of vulnerability. I certainly wasn’t going to lean on them. But the pavement was smooth and well maintained. The bridge is plenty wide for walking, but it’s scary to think it used to be a 2 lane road. I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to drive across it.
As we walked, I look over the edge often hoping to see a sea critter of some sort, but I wasn’t so lucky. I’m looking for stingrays, sea turtles and sharks but I would have had more luck in the morning hours. If you time it right, the unobstructed view from the bridge is also the perfect spot to watch the sunset with the locals.
Several fishing boats glided under the bridge and a few Pelicans rested along the railings. Despite this day’s lack of wildlife, the light breeze, bright sunshine and tranquil view was worth the stop and before we knew it we’d reached the end.
Have you ever wondered about that little island as you traveled over the bridge? I always have. It’s named Pigeon Key and was Flagler’s construction crew headquarters for building the 7 mile bridge as well as the lower portion of the Overseas Highway. It was in use from 1908-1912, housing up to 400 construction workers. Today, you can visit the museum and tour the island which has 8 historic buildings on the property. There is also a guest house for rent that sleeps up to 10 people. Want the whole island? You can rent it out for your special occasion and sleep 70 people overnight.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take the tour. It wasn’t until we arrived at the end of the bridge did we realize we needed $12 per person to enter Pigeon Key. With all our cash back at the car, we turned and began the 2.2 mile walk back.
As we returned to the starting point, I stop to read the signage. The old bridge is in trouble. Without funding, maintenance can not continue and the bridge will be closed. Normally, I think these bold statements are the worst case scenario and not likely to happen, but I know this is different.
After living in Florida for 8 years, I’ve seen a few pedestrian bridges close due to lack of funding. My favorite walking bridge in Tampa closed despite the abundance of daily traffic from walkers, joggers, bicyclers, and in-line skaters. With several fundraising events as last ditch efforts, not enough funding could be raised to reprise the old bridge to the new standards. The Skyway fishing pier, also in Tampa, has already met the same fate… well half of it. The older half has been closed and the newer half will be facing these issues soon.
Without enough funding, this iconic piece of the old 7 mile bridge will close. Restoring the old bridge will cost in the neighborhood of $18 million and yearly maintenance is estimated to cost the City of Marathon $70,000. If you’d like to help or read more, visit Friends of Old Seven, the organization trying to save the bridge.
If you haven’t stopped and relished in the beauty and serenity of this 4 mile walk at the end of Marathon Key, now is the time to do it. It may not be there the next time you’re zipping down A1A and decide to take that quick turn into the parking lot.
Have you taken this scenic walk before? What did you like about it?