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Cedar Keys Wilderness

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A long slender T shaped island sits amid the shallow blue waters near the coast.
Library image #11: Aerial view of oceanic island.

Introduction

The United States Congress designated the Cedar Keys Wilderness (map) in 1972 and it now has a total of 379 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Florida and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Description

Twelve keys that have been earmarked as protected breeding grounds for colonial birds make up Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge. These keys, low islands rising just above the sea, are in fact one of the largest nesting areas in north Florida. The four outermost islands have been designated as Wilderness: Seahorse Key, North Key, Snake Key, and Bird Key (also known as Deadman's Key). Most of the keys were used as fishing camps or villages by ancient cultures thousands of years ago.

A prominent sandy ridge distinguishes Seahorse Key, recalling the island's past life as a huge sand dune (granted this was hundreds of thousands of years ago). The ridge crests at 52 feet above sea level, making it the highest point on Florida's Gulfcoast. The other keys barely make it to 20 feet above the waves. An upland forest of cabbage palm, red bay, live oak, and laurel oak covers the ridge, with an understory of saw palmetto, yaupon, wild olive, prickly pear, eastern red cedar, and Spanish bayonet. Salt marsh and estuarine waters dotted with mangrove dominate the lower elevations.

The most abundant species are white ibis, great egret, double-crested cormorant, snowy egret, tricolored heron, brown pelican, and great blue heron. Reptiles are common as well, including a dense population of cottonmouth snakes. Due to the shortage of fresh water, however, mammals are scarce.

Visitors may use the beaches year round for beachcombing and bird watching, except Seahorse Key. Seahorse Key and a 300 foot buffer zone around the island is closed to all entry from March 1 through June 30 to protect colonial nesting birds. Camping is not permitted on any of the refuge islands.

Planning to Visit the Cedar Keys Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Cedar Keys Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.