Friday, March 29, 2024

Paddling off the coast of Cedar Key

February 2024                                                           Most Recent Posts:
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Sumner Florida

Atsena Otie Key was a proposed housing development in the early 1990’s but thankfully the Florida Coast Nature Conservancy encouraged and lobbied for the public acquisition of the land.   It is now part of Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge and is accessible only by boat.

I’d been watching the weather for a day of light winds and when I finally got one I took my kayak to the city park to launch it for a paddle to Otsena Otie Key.   The city park is a really lovely spot with a sandy beach, benches, restrooms, and a gazebo.


You can park you car right next to the beach but you have to carry your kayak from there and launch among the sun bathers.  There is a private rental company there as well.


You can see my launch site behind me.


As I paddled  away from the shore, I passed the back of the dock street merchants’ buildings  and the fishing dock  in the distant left and the power boat ramp on the right.


Same buildings and dock just a bit further along.


Atsena Otie Key (aSEEna OTee), there in the distance,  is a barrier island and is the original Cedar Key. In 1842 the first people settled on the island (key) of Atsena Otie calling it Cedar Key.  By 1860 more than 200 people lived there and had established businesses.   The Eberhard Faber Pencil Company built a lumber mill in 1868 on Atsena Otie Key to supply wood for its pencil factory in New Jersey


According to the local history museum, by the 1870s the oyster, green turtle, and fishing industries had also grown on Atsena Otie. By the 1890s lumber production was making a profit of almost $900,000, and the Faber Mill alone produced wood for casing more than a third of a million pencils.

A 10 foot tidal wave washed it all away in the hurricane of September 29, 1896.  People were killed, the mill was destroyed and the island wrecked except for a few buildings.  A business building and several houses that escaped destruction were floated across one island closer to the mainland.  The formerly named Way Key was renamed Cedar Key and lumber salvaged from the wreckage of the mills was used for construction of the town we visit today.  The last wooden house standing on the island was torn down in the 1940s and the lumber was taken to Cedar Key.


When I landed on the sandy beach there was not another soul in sight. 
Take a look at this short video to get a real feel for what a beautiful spot this is.


I set out looking for the path to the cemetery that David and I had found on our trip here in March of 2014.



IMG_1352I walked in both directions but all I found was  this Horseshoe crab. I haven’t seen a crab or a shell in a very long time.  In February of this year a petition was filed with NOAA Fisheries seeking federal Endangered Species Act protection for the American horseshoe crab.  Long a ubiquitous species its populations have dropped dramatically because of overharvesting and habitat loss.  If you remember seeing them in numbers on beaches like I do, then you’ve no doubt noticed that is no more.

I walked as far on the beach as I could before running into the mangroves.  No sign of the trail.  The dock, in extreme disrepair,  for the town can be seen in the distance.  Being accessible only by water, everything came by boat.


I got back in my boat and paddled around toward the dock to see if there was anywhere else to land that might have the trail.  It’s been 10 years and I just don’t remember.

But I did find remains of buildings on the shore right next to the dock.

The sign indicating an archeological site told me I was in the right place.  But I could find not trail here either.



I paddled around, under and past the long dock which has been taken over largely by cormorants and a few other birds.



Although I was certain the trail was between the landing area and the dock, I had been unable to find it so I paddled on to do a circumnavigation of the island.

As you can see here, it was a gorgeous day.


I slipped into some of the mangrove coves


These are red mangroves.  You can tell by their bent roots.


I really had to pay attention as there were some quite shallow spots.


As I began to turn to what I’m calling the south side of the island, I heard distinct voices and found a group of paddlers come into view.   I didn’t get any pictures of them or their leader “Kayak Bob” as I was too busy asking Bob who brings small groups out to the island, if he knew where the trail was.  He gave me directions and we both continued our trips around the island going in opposite directions.


Lucky catch or fisherman’s loss??


I saw a group of what I think are Lesser Scaups but Laurel will let me know if I’m wrong.

According to Bob, I was in the right place at the far end of the sandy beach going toward the dock.  So I returned and looked again with no luck.  Just as I got in the kayak to leave, the group came paddling up and were on their way to find the trail. Lucky for me Bob found it.  The entrance and boardwalk that had just been built within the last year or two were destroyed by the late August 2023 Hurricane Idalia.  Thus the trail really was not visible without walking into the Black Mangroves which I did not do.

But we did.  The mangrove pencil roots were over my knees and the water up to my ankles.


The further inland we got, the clearer the trail and the greater the destruction.


At several points we could see the crumpled remains of the clearly brand new boardwalk that had been tossed hither and yon by the winds.


I was told that this was an island cistern.  Not sure I understand how it worked.  But obviously the people needed something other than water from the gulf.


As promised the path led to the cemetery.  The wooden post sign lists the people buried here along with their birth and death dates.  Many of the headstones are gone, have been damaged or are barely readable.

It doesn’t appear that anyone is actually taking care of the cemetery any more.




It turned out to be a beautiful day on the water, I met some very interesting people and found the cemetery.  Life is Grand.


Later in my time here I had another kayak meet up with Kayak Bob and got a stealth picture of him.  He doesn’t like pictures but his “story” is really interesting.


  1. Glad you had an awesome day out with your kayak. I loved the picture of all the birds hanging out on that old pier. Nice that they have use of it. Just another part of the magic of the Cedar Key area.

  2. Always love the ones with you in the water, makes me feel like I'm there looking over the front of the boat.
    The racoon is in heaven, whether he found it or caught it, I doubt he cares, lol

  3. Such a lovely place! Lots of birds, calm water, nice!

  4. Too bad the cemetery isn't being taken care of. But good thing you met Bob and found it. ~Gaelyn

  5. looks as though Kayak Bob showed up at just the right time. Lots of fun water photos and an interesting destination. I remember seeing a horseshoe crab for the first time when Bel and I canoed to St Vincent Island back in 2004. Fun memories. They are such prehistoric looking creatures.

  6. That is such a fun kayak trip and destination....and you had the perfect day! Your photos are great. It's not so much fun when it's windy (speaking from experience, LOL).

  7. I forgot about the scaup! I asked Eric and he said he thinks you're correct that it's a Lesser Scaup. :-)


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