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USGS Showcased at Dedication of New State Park

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Dave Wegener in front of exhibit Display case: The geologic exhibit is constructed from the Key Largo Limestone exposed in Windley Key quarry. The model, created by Dave Wegener (in foreground), has eight interactive panels with laser lights.
More than 400 people attended a ceremony dedicating the Alison Fahrer Environmental Education Center and Windley Key Fossil Reef State Geological Site near Islamorada in the middle Florida Keys on January 23, 1999. One of only two State Geological Sites in Florida and the only place on Earth where one can walk through an in-situ coral reef, the 32-acre parcel was purchased in 1985 for $3.2 million through Florida's Conservation and Recreation Land Program. The Park is operated by the Florida Park Service, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), and Friends of the Islamorada Area State Parks. The Environmental Education Center contains a classroom/lecture facility and museum. Alison Fahrer, a former County Commissioner, has worked tirelessly with volunteers to clean up the abandoned quarry and install nature trails through the surrounding tropical hardwood hammock. A bill passed by the State legislature provided funds for construction of the center.

The centerpiece of the museum is a "hands-on" model constructed of the quarry limestone and donated by the USGS St. Petersburg Field Center. Designed by Gene Shinn and built by Dave Wegener, the model depicts the geologic evolution of the reefal Key Largo Limestone that forms the upper and middle Florida Keys and is the counterpart to the modern offshore reef tract currently being mapped by the St. Pete Center.

Described in classic studies by Dr. John Edward Hoffmeister (University of Miami), the 125-ka reef extends for more than 175 km along the Florida shelf, is up to 55 m thick, and underlies the offshore living reefs.

Henry Flagler, who built the Overseas Railway that once connected the Florida Keys, first mined the Key Largo Limestone at Windley Key and adjacent quarries in the early 1900s. The rock was used for commercial construction purposes and decorative facing stone. Mining ceased in the early 1960s. It was near the Windley Key quarry that the Flagler Station was located. Use of the railroad ended in 1935 when a Category 5 storm swept the train from the tracks, killing more than 400 people.

Dave Wegener in front of exhibit Concept: The original conceptual drawing for the Windley Key geologic model. Click on the figure above for a full-screen version with explanations of many of the features of the model. [annotated schematic—60KB]
The excavated area of the reef at Windley Key is an historic field-trip site that is visited annually by hundreds of graduate students and geologists from around the world. The Windley Key State Park and Environmental Center will be highly publicized and are expected to become much more popular attractions. Through the educational geologic exhibit, the USGS will receive ongoing exposure to park visitors and field trip participants ranging from grade school students to professional scientists. The new nature trails will also attract botanists and biologists, but along the way, they will explore the intricate skeletal patterns that make up the geologic framework of the ancient coral reef. Biology and geology are as inextricably linked in the rock record of the fossil-reef ecosystem as they are in the quarry environment of today.

Speakers at the ceremony included the Park Manager; Director of the FDEP Division of Recreation and Parks; President of the Friends of the Islamorada Area State Parks; Mayor of Islamorada Village of Islands; the Governor's Policy Advisor for Everglades Restoration; Dr. Walt Schmidt, Chief Geologist of the Florida Geological Survey; and Alison Fahrer. Among guests also honored for development of the park were the Florida State Representative; Monroe County Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem; Chief and OMC Manager of Parks District 5; the FDEP Assistant Director, architect, and construction project manager; President of Wilderness Graphics; and members of the Mustard Seed Foundation. Guests honored for active reef research in the Keys were Mrs. J. Edward Hoffmeister, Gene Shinn, and Dr. Robert N. Ginsburg (University of Miami). Others researchers present were Dr. H. Gray Multer (retired, University of Miami), Dr. Peter Betzer (University of South Florida, St. Petersburg campus), Don Hickey, Barbara Lidz, Chris Reich, and Dave Wegener (USGS), and members of the National Audubon Society, local environmental and commercial interests, and the public. An Honor Guard composed of children from local Boy Scout and Girl Scout Troops presented the colors.

As one Keys resident said, "I have learned more today from the model exhibit than during the 20 years I've lived here!"

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USGS Showcased at State Park Dedication

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