Location: Tierra Verde, Florida
Webpage: County Park
General Description: Fort de Soto comprises 1136 acres on 5 interconnected islands or keys off the west coast of Florida, just south of St. Petersburg. There are a lot of ocean ecosystems represented in the park including mangroves, wetlands, palm hammocks and hardwoods. The main attraction of the park are the beaches, but the park also has a history as a military installation. Constructed during the American-Spanish war in 1900, Fort de Soto was a sub-post to Fort Dade on nearby Egmont Key. Following a new design for forts using thick concrete walls, Fort de Soto consisted of two gun pits of four 12-inch mortars which could lobe shells a maximum range of 6.8 miles into the Gulf. While Fort Dade had much to offer soldiers stationed there, Fort de Soto consisted of few buildings with even fewer amenities. In 1908 it was reported that the hordes of mosquitoes both day and night made life for the soldiers miserable. While never firing a shot, except in practice, Forts de Soto and Dade were important debarkation and quarantine facilities during the Spanish-American war. In 1940, Mullet key was used as a bombing range during World War II using the wooden towers at Fort de Soto for targeting information.
1) The concrete fortifications in the fort are in reasonable condition for being primarily abandoned since 1926 and multiple hurricanes over the years have destroyed all the buildings that made up the original fort. They did have some of the mortars installed in the gun pits which helped a lot in understanding how the coastal defenses would have worked.
2) After exploring the fort and surrounding beaches, we did not have enough time to take any other hikes on the islands. They have an extensive trails system that would have been interesting. According to the information about the park the campsite is quite large with 238 sites having water and electric hookups plus restrooms including washers and dryers.
3) We learned about an interesting tree, the Strangler Fig, which has an interesting life cycle. It begins life as an epiphyte when the seed is deposited in the branches of a tree. It then grows in the air until roots are able to reach the ground. At this point the tree will encircle the host tree eventually killing it and taking it’s place reaching heights of 50-60 feet. It is considered a major pest tree that is actively controlled in the park.