John Pennekamp Coral Reef State
from the 1960s
Coral Reef State Park
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
Don after a swim.
Above center: Dave
through the boat's glass-bottom.
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.
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
Dive, dive, dive!
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.
On the other boat, our friends from
Michigan after a dive.
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.
I visited Pennekamp State Park during my 2005 trip
to Florida (see News Update from August 7, 2005). This is the sign at the
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.
The dive shop and marina store where you can buy a t-shirt
or fill your scuba tanks.
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.
This is the swimming beach, which
hasn't changed much over the last 40 years (see photo above in 1967).