Marathon is one of the main towns in the Keys, about half-way to Key West. It doesn’t have the historic charm of Key West, but it’s so much calmer and less touristy. We drove into Marathon a couple of times from Sugarloaf Key.
The first time, we stopped at Bahia Honda State Park, just south of Marathon. We’d heard great things about this park, and some lucky campers can get sites right on the water. But the day we were there, high winds had deposited piles of seagrass on the beaches and the stench was pretty overwhelming in some parts. I actually felt sorry for the campers who had fought so hard for those prized camping spots. So we didn’t stay long, just hiked around a bit, and walked out on the portion of the old Bahia Honda bridge that the state has maintained for pedestrians.
We continued into Marathon and found a couple of sweet little public parks. One had a beach (that didn’t stink) that actually allows dogs on it. Both were a nice, uncrowded alternative to the popular state park.
The second time we went into Marathon, we brought our bikes and rode out on the portion of the old Seven Mile Bridge that is maintained for bicyclists and pedestrians. You can go as far as Pigeon Key, were up to 400 bridge workers lived while working on the original railroad bridge in the early 1900s, and again when it was converted for autos in 1935. Pigeon Key is now a peaceful little spot with a Marine Science Center that offers summer camp and educational tours. Unfortunately, the ramp from the bridge down to the key is closed. You can only get there by boat.
We stopped at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon. Kate loves turtles, and we’ve rescued a few from roads on our trip. We were curious about a turtle hospital that actually has its own ambulance. We decided not to take the full tour for $22, but the exhibit in the lobby was very informative. This place was started in the 70s by Richie Moretti, who bought a small motel and decided to convert the pool into a sea aquarium for guests. He ended up saving a few local sea turtles, and before he knew it, he was a full-on turtle rescuer, called to help whenever an injured sea turtle was found. In 1986, he converted the motel into a large non-profit turtle rehabilitation center with 23 tanks in addition to the pool. Eventually he bought the nightclub next door and turned it into a turtle hospital. Moretti and his staff have rescued, rehabilitated and released hundreds of turtles over the years, and they work to educate the public about sea turtles and how to keep them safe from hazards.