The Key West Nature Preserve
Most visitors to Key West will probably have no idea that there is a designated nature preserve located on the south side of this tightly-packed urban island. But take a trip down to the south end of White Street where it hits the White Street Pier and Higgs Beach area, then go left along Atlantic Boulevard. Look carefully because it is easy to miss the entrance – it is just a small gazebo and sign next to the parking lot of the 1800 Atlantic apartments. The Berg Nature Preserve is a patch of rare undeveloped beachfront and mangrove forest that has been acquired by the City of Key West and preserved as an accessible natural area and beachfront.
Don’t underrate the preserve because of its small size and location between condo and apartment developments. It is a true slice of wilderness and a great spot for a walk with the kids or just some moments of peace and quiet. The quarter-mile trail to the beach is a mini adventure trek, and the beach itself has a good length of walkable sand. The area is home to plenty of birds, butterflies, lizards, land crabs, snakes, and frogs.
Expect to see interesting creatures like the Cuban Brown Anole lizard, the Bark Anole, and the common Green Anole. All are very common, as are young Iguanas, an extremely numerous invasive species. If you are lucky, you may see a Southern Black Racer snake, as they like to prey on the lizards and frogs in the area. All of these animals are harmless, and in fact you will need to be stealthy and sharp-eyed to spot them. Walk quietly and you will have opportunities to practice your nature photography.
There is a wooden viewing deck that overlooks a portion of the mangrove forest and a wetlands area. The path gives onto the beach, which is bounded by shallow water and safe for children. Looking to the west, you will see the beach stretching down to the White Street Pier. To the east is the Smathers Beach seawall. The access to this quiet beach is itself well worth the short hike through the preserve. It is a perfect spot to spend a couple of hours with a picnic lunch.
There is a set of apartments that have been built across the mangroves near the intersection of Thompson Street and Atlantic Boulevard. A second entrance to the Key West Nature Preserve is just to the west side of these buildings, at 1700 Atlantic. This entrance gives onto a nice boardwalk leading to an oceanfront viewing deck. This path would be a good choice for those needing easier access, with the raised boardwalk still offering very good views into the mangroves.
Given the hunger for Key West development property, the Berg Nature Preserve is an amazing hidden gem. It is conserved by the City of Key West and operated by the Key West Garden Club to the benefit of visitors and many native and non-native plants and animals. The Preserve is open daily from mid-morning until sunset, and a trek down the paths and along the beach will provide a great afternoon of fun for kids and a calm respite for adults.