One of Tampa Bay’s most beautiful vantage points will be open to the public this month. On June 16, for one day only, visitors to Anclote Key Preserve State Park
can climb the spiral staircase of its historic lighthouse and grab some of the most striking views of the Tampa Bay Area.
First built in 1887, the 110-foot Anclote Key Lighthouse remained manned for 65 years but gradually fell into disrepair. The Coast Guard decommissioned the structure in 1984. Vandals tagged its walls. Broken glass and trash scattered the ground. Vegetation reclaimed the grounds for the wild.
A $1.5 million restoration project brought the historic structure back to life in 2003, but five years ago the Florida Department of Environmental Protection closed the property completely due to contaminated soil.
Now, thanks to volunteers from the Friends of Anclote Key State Park and Lighthouse, the lighthouse will be periodically open to the public again. The Friends pitched in to clean up the grounds and, with the help of a $5,000 grant from the Florida Lighthouse Association, erected a fence to keep visitors on the sidewalk.
On June 16, visitors will have a chance to climb the 127 internal stairs leading up to the top of the lighthouse.
“It's very narrow spiral staircase,” Tod Cornell, resident park ranger at Anclote Key, tells 83 Degrees
. “For that reason we can only allow seven or eight people to climb at a time.” Around 250 people showed up when the lighthouse was opened for a tour in February. “It can take a while and you'll have to be patient,” Cornell says. “But it's definitely worth the climb.”
When we spoke to Cornell, he was on his way to the island by boat. Situated a few miles offshore from Tarpon Springs, the 403-acre Anclote Key Preserve State Park is only accessible by water, so to get there you’ll have to do the same -- either paddling or motoring across the sound. Your best bet is probably to hitch a ride with Odyssey Cruise Lines
, who’ll be operating a ferry for the occasion.
Once at the park, there’s a bit of a hike to the lighthouse.
“It's a pretty good walk up a wooden boardwalk from where you anchor your boat up to the lighthouse,” Cornell says. “A a nice little climb up and down [the lighthouse stairs], and a nice little walk back. Flips flops are not a very good choice.”
There are no provisions on the island so be sure to bring your own water and supplies as well. Sunscreen and bug spray are highly recommended.
If you can’t make it this month, don’t fret. Another tour is scheduled for fall, when, Cornell points out, the heat and mosquitos will be less relentless.
For updates, visit the Friends of Anclote Key State Park and Lighthouse website