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Press Office
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 11, 2010
CONTACT: Kristin Lock, (850) 778-7294
  John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, (305) 451-1202

America's First Undersea Park Celebrates 50th Anniversary

~John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park holds golden anniversary event completing the 75th Anniversary of Florida State Parks~ 

KEY LARGO - Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Florida State Parks celebrated the 50th Anniversary of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, America’s first undersea park. This event completes the year long recognition of the 75th Anniversary of Florida State Parks and caps off an 11-day celebration in Key Largo.

“I am thrilled to be a part of today’s event celebrating John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park’s golden anniversary,” said DEP Secretary Mimi A. Drew. “Today’s event allowed park visitors a chance to show appreciation for the underwater majesty, historical and natural significance and economic benefit of this unique park.”

Designated as America’s first undersea park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, protects and preserves a portion of the only living coral reef formation in the continental United States. The acquisition of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park by the state of Florida was championed by John D. Pennekamp, former editor of the Miami Herald and major player in the establishment of Everglades National Park. John D. Pennekamp, Jr., son of the park’s namesake, spoke at today’s event and nearly 30 members of the Pennekamp family attended.

“Pop loved to bring us to the park so that we could not only experience the beauty of the reef, but also see the hard work required to keep the park accessible to all,” said grandson of John D. Pennekamp and Friends Board Member Thomas Pennekamp. “We’re thankful for the continued strong support of the Florida Park Service and the many volunteers in keeping the park a haven for those who love to experience the wonder of nature firsthand.”

For 11 days, Key Largo has celebrated this momentous occasion around the community welcoming educators, environmentalists and underwater enthusiasts from around the world. Events included a Lionfish roundup, a photo contest and various dives, seminars and cleanups. Yesterday, the iconic underwater statue Christ of the Abyss, a gift to the park in its formative years, was celebrated as part of an underwater birthday ceremony. The newly renovated 30,000 gallon saltwater aquarium in the visitor center and the recently unveiled Wyland official 50th Anniversary commemorative painting, “Marine Sanctuary: Mangroves to the Sea,” were also highlighted to celebrate the anniversary.

Today’s event featured environmental exhibitors, presentations from individuals who helped shape the state park and tours on the park’s famed glass-bottom boat. Keynote speaker Dr. Sylvia Earle, a current Explorer-in-Residence for the National Geographic Society and a world renowned undersea explorer, discussed the importance of ocean protection and the celebration of “50 years of caring for the sea.”

“The community has displayed unwavering support for the park and the anniversary event, as well as what the park means to the nearly 30 million visitors who have marveled at the beauty of the coral reef over the past 50 years,” said Florida State Parks Director Donald Forgione. “We would like to extend sincere appreciation to the individuals and organizations that worked to make this important anniversary a success.”

Supporters of the 50th Anniversary celebration include: Coral Reef Park Company, Inc., the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Keys and Key West Tourist Development Council, the Newman PR Firm, the Wyland Foundation, the Ocean Reef Conservation Association, Inc., Divers Direct, the staff of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and many others.

About John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park offers world class resource-based recreation that has drawn nearly 30 million visitors in its 50 year history. The park features a visitor center complete with a newly renovated 30,000 gallon saltwater aquarium, picnic areas, a campground, boat docks, boat ramps, swimming areas and nature trails through hammock and mangrove communities. The park’s concession offers snorkeling, scuba-diving, glass-bottom boat tours, canoe, kayak and boat rentals and diving/snorkeling equipment rentals. The ecological make- up of the state park enables visitors to experience beautiful coral reefs, mangrove swamps, subtropical hardwood hammocks and grass flats.

  • Total Acres: 63,845
    • Upland: 3,221
    • Submerged: 60,624
  • Campsites: 47
  • Shoreline: 77,600 feet
  • Fiscal Year
    • 2009-2010 Figures
    • Visitation: 734,303
    • Economic Impact to Community: $27,437,499
    • Jobs Generated: 548

About Florida State Parks
Created in 1935 by the Florida Legislature, Florida State Parks has grown from eight to 160 parks over the last 75 years. Today, the Florida Park Service manages more than 700,000 acres of Florida’s natural environment, including 100 miles of beaches, eight National Historic Landmarks and 39 sites on the National Register of Historic Places. Florida State Parks has been recognized by the National Recreation and Park Association as the nation’s first and only two-time Gold Medal winner for the nation’s best park service. For more information, visit www.floridastateparks.org

snorkeler next to coral

"I am thrilled to be a part of today’s event celebrating John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park’s golden anniversary."

Mimi A. Drew
DEP Secretary

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Last updated: January 25, 2011

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