This history of the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park goes back to the early to mid 1900’s. Discussions began around 1930 to protect the coral reefs and the surrounding water. Initially this plan was a failure. Property owners, town officials, and people that used the area were against the protection order. Towards the end of the 1950 locals started to get very concerned about the degrading condition of the area. The area had become a salvage yard for opportunists. People were removing pieces of the reef to sell as souvenirs. These removal efforts were completed by any means necessary. Even explosives were used.
At the time John D. Pennekamp was an editor for the Miami Herald. Mr Pennekamp had an impressive resume when it came to advocating for the protection of South Florida’s natural wonders. He assisted in establishing Everglades National Park, was the first chairman of the Florida Board of Parks, and was an adviser for the US Fish & Wildlife Service. This influence resulted in some of the Key Largo coral reefs being named a protected preserve.
In 1960 President Eisenhower officially protected the area and named it the Key Largo Coral Reef Preserve. In an effort to show John Pennekamp the gratitude he deserved for fighting for the protection of the reefs land was purchased and donated at the current site. A formal park was constructed and Florida Governor Leroy Collins changed the name to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The park officially opened in 1963.
Today the park encompasses about 70 sq. miles. Beginning at the Ocean Reef Club in Northern Key Largo and travels south approximately 25 miles and ends at Rodriguez Key (mile marker 96). The park extends about 3.5 miles off the Key Largo shoreline into the Atlantic Ocean. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is surrounded by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.