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Home > Close-Ups > John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (Florida)



Family Photos from the 1960s

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park


John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo, Florida, is one of my favorite state parks in the U.S.  It's also one of the nation's most unique parks.  It was created in 1963 and is the oldest state park in the Florida Keys.  It was also the first undersea park in the U.S. and protects the only coral reef in the continental United States.


I grew up in Michigan in the 1960s and my family drove down to Florida to visit Pennekamp State Park twice, during the spring of 1964 when I was four years old and again in the spring of 1967.  One of the main reasons we took those trips was to go scuba diving at Pennekamp.  My Dad, one of the original Navy SEALs, was trained in scuba diving during World War II and, in fact, was one of the very first scuba divers.  Over the years, he taught all of my older brothers and I how to scuba dive.  Diving in the coral reefs at Pennekamp State Park during the 1960s was a real thrill for our whole family.  Well, O.K., I didn't start scuba diving until I was older, but I did some snorkeling at Pennekamp.


Visiting Pennekamp State Park is one of my fondest childhood memories.  I taught myself how to swim in the freshwater ponds there when I was four years old and I'll never forget our trips out to the reef.   We anchored about five miles offshore and, since we had rented glass-bottom boats, my Mom and I could see everyone diving below.


The park hasn't changed that much over the last 40 years and is still a great place to visit.  It has a 47-site campground (reservations recommended), a marina, swimming beach, and visitor center.   Below, I've posted photos from our family trips to the park in 1964 and 1967, and my most recent visit in 2005, which I've described in my August 7, 2005 entry.  More information about Pennekamp State Park can be be found on their website here.



Left:  This is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park around 1965, a few years after it opened.  The marina is at the top and the campground, surrounding two freshwater ponds, is at the bottom.  The campground is a lot more grown over now.  This photo is hanging in the park's Visitor Center.


Family Photos From 1964




Above left:  This is my family camping next to the freshwater pond in 1964.  My brother Dave is playing the guitar (a very 60's thing to do), my Mom is lighting a cigarette (another very 60's thing to do), while half of my brother Don is sacked out.

Above center:  I taught myself how to swim here in this freshwater pond at Pennekamp when I was four years old (I'm in blue, my brother's on the right), which I remember vividly.  This is at the little round pond seen in the aerial photo above.

Above right:  We rented a glass-bottom boat and headed out to the coral reef, about five miles offshore, to do some snorkeling.  That's my brother Dave.



Above left:  My brother Don with a conch (pronounced "konk"), the most beloved mollusk in the Keys.  Conchs are protected, so we didn't keep it.

Above center:  Dave snorkeling near the light beacon.

Above right:  Dave with a conch.



Above left:  Don after a swim.

Above center:  Dave through the boat's glass-bottom.

Above right:  This is in Key West after visiting Pennekamp State Park.  With my arms crossed, I was getting tired of my Dad taking pictures and wanted to get on the Conch Train so I could apply my transportation planning skills.


Family Photos From 1967




Above left:  My family drove down from Michigan to the Keys with some friends during spring break of 1967.  These are our two boats heading out to the reef.

Above center:  Finding a place to anchor.

Above right:  Dive, dive, dive!



Above left: Dave scuba diving.

Above center:  That's me in the boat with my sailor hat pulled down.  I was too young to scuba dive, but I had a great time anyway.

Above right:  On the other boat, our friends from Michigan after a dive.



Above left:  Back at Pennekamp State Park, this is the swimming beach.  I'm in the water next to my brother Dwight, who has the snorkel.  My brother Dave is lying on the right.

Above right:  My brother Dwight at the swimming beach.


My Photos From 2005




Above left:  I visited Pennekamp State Park during my 2005 trip to Florida (see News Update from August 7, 2005).  This is the sign at the park entrance.

Above center:  I stayed a night in the campground.  Compare this to the photos above to see how the campground has changed since the mid-1960s.

Above right:  Eating my picnic dinner on a quiet evening near the amphitheatre.



Above left:  The dive shop and marina store where you can buy a t-shirt or fill your scuba tanks.

Above center:  The popular marina at Pennekamp.  You can rent a glass-bottom boat here or hop on a sailboat to go snorkeling out in the reefs, about five miles offshore.

Above right:  This is the swimming beach, which hasn't changed much over the last 40 years (see photo above in 1967).