The results may frequently astound us whenever highly-motivated types pursue bold objectives such as love or publicity - or a dizzy array of both. Clinton Mozley Washburn, a wealthy St. Petersburg promoter-developer, awash at the time in real estate, decided (for media hype) to treat some lucky honeymooners to two idyllic and free weeks on his uninhabited, semi-tropical island, 37 km northwest of Tampa. Exhibiting astute promotional spin, Washburn cleverly renamed his uninviting Hog Island to Honeymoon Island, and in 1939, he constructed 50 palmetto-thatched bungalows there. With the assistance of Life magazine editors and writers, the Clearwater Lions Club sponsored a trendy contest that attracted 2,200 newly-wed applicants.
During WWII, the island's romantic facilities were employed as a recuperative resort for exhausted factory workers. In 1964, the
Dunedin Causeway was built linking island and mainland, and now the area is a state park where visitors may enjoy sun-drenched beaches, mangrove swamps and tidal flats.
Honeymoon Island is actually a barrier island directly
across from Palm Harbor, north of Dunedin where the Blue Jays engage in spring training. A meagre 385 acres of land and 6 km of sandy white beach are surrounded by impressive turquoise water. The beaches range from sandy to rocky.
Honeymoon and neighboring Caladesi Island were part of a larger barrier island that split in half during a major hurricane in 1921. The waterway between the islands is appropriately called Hurricane Pass. There is island ferry service to Caladesi Island which boasted "
America's Best Beach" - awarded in 2008.
Honeymoon Island's park contains several inviting nature trails and bird observation areas. Visitors swim, fish and snorkel here in the warm Gulf waters or picnic while they enjoy the beautiful scenery. Shelling is plentiful, as Gulf currents deposit an incredible variety of exotic seashells on the shore. At the park pavilion, I view glass-enclosed displays of every imaginable shell from classic starfish, sea urchin and cone to snail, murex, auger, turban and conch. Outside, set firmly on the expansive rear wooden deck, a magic telescope provides close-up views of unsuspecting shore birds.
After examining the park's historic displays and a decorative (yet very unattractive) pelican attached to a wall, we set out on Osprey Trail for a 2 km hike meandering past no less than 22 impressive osprey nests, each set high atop de-barked Florida slash pines.
Ospreys are amongst the largest birds of prey in North America. Feet covered in short, sharp spines for grasping, their diet is almost exclusively fish. They readily build nests on man-made structures such as telephone poles, channel markers and duck blinds. Today, they can easily be seen and heard overhead circling gracefully in the sky.
Honeymoon Island hosts 208 species of plants. The hike has a surreal feel to it as we pass long sections of deliberately burned areas accompanied by a multitude of denuded trees missing their protective bark. Ecological burning keeps accumulated fuels to a minimum here and helps reduce exotic plant life while preserving fire-tolerant native species.
A tangle of bare limbs point into the azure sky in austere juxtapositions as if Salvador Dali has been hard at work. Just before heading back at the far end of the island near Pelican Cove Trail, we spot an eagle's nest and decide to sit on a nearby bench and wait. Within a few minutes, we are rewarded and excitedly observe two adults feeding their burgeoning youngsters.
A pair of American Bald Eagles nested on Osprey Trail in 2008, marking the first incubating eagles recorded in Pinellas County. By law, we are fenced back 90 metres from the nest, but it is well marked and easily located. Eagles mate for life, reach maturity at four and jointly incubate two eggs. Other than osprey, eagle and fellow snow birds, we also spot tern, plover and myriad wading birds
Besides our many feathered friends, the north section of Honeymoon Island has attracted nudists since the early 1970's. Today, I encounter only one family of four from Illinois and a solo retired Minnesota doctor equipped with a rather large Nikon camera. All are fully clothed and quite friendly.
We are advised by park guides to keep an eye out for the gopher tortoise (which can burrow up to 6 metres) crossing our path, armadillo foraging for food or raccoon scurrying off into the woods, but we encounter none of these creatures. Nor do we encounter the Great Horned Owl or Eastern Diamond-back rattlesnake. The hike normally takes 75 minutes, but watching a sky full of birds easily stretches it to over 2 hours.
The South Beach Pavilion provides bicycles to rent by the hour or day and kayaks are available at Café Honeymoon. Both facilities offer beach chair and umbrella rentals for nominal fees. Their decks are known for great views of the Gulf. Showers are available and the park's concession has a gift shop and snack bar.
Florida state parks are open between 8 a.m. and sundown every day of the year (including holidays). The park assesses a per vehicle entrance fee of $8. The charge to ride
the ferry to Caladesi Island is $12 per person in addition to the park entrance fee. Honeymoon Island State Park is located at the extreme west end of S.R. (State Rd.) 586, north of Dunedin.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.