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It’s a wild time in the Keys: Week of events celebrates wildlife refuges

This is last year’s winning image in the Landscape category of the National Key Deer Refuge photo contest, ‘Black Mangrove Drama’ by Valerie Preziosi, taken on North Snipe in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. This year’s contest photos will be installed at the Key Deer Nature Center on March 14.
This is last year’s winning image in the Landscape category of the National Key Deer Refuge photo contest, ‘Black Mangrove Drama’ by Valerie Preziosi, taken on North Snipe in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. This year’s contest photos will be installed at the Key Deer Nature Center on March 14.

You live or are visiting here for the outdoors — our marine environment as well as environmentally sensitive uplands.

Those uplands and the habitat they provide for numerous endangered species are celebrated during the third annual Outdoor Fest, a celebration of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex.

The refuges and their friends group, the Florida Keys Wildlife Society, host a week of with family-friendly, mostly free outdoor adventures and hands-on activities set for March 10 through 17.

The events span the four national wildlife refuges established in the Florida Keys — National Key Deer, Crocodile Lake, Great White Heron and Key West wildlife refuges — and feature expert-guided birding, nature walks and kayak trips; evening wildlife programs; nature sketching, photography workshops and a photo contest; two wildlife fairs; a natural history bike ride; and the fourth annual Run With Deer 5K on Big Pine Key.

Eco-tourists, nature-lovers, birding enthusiasts, nature photographers, artists, runners and outdoor adventure-inclined families will find much to explore in the week-long extravaganza.

In the Upper Keys, all activities begin at the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, 10750 County Road 905, Key Largo. If heading north on U.S. 1, stay to the right at mile marker 106 where the road splits. Following are the Crocodile Lake events planned.

March 10

▪ Bird walk, 8 to 10 a.m. Free, 20-person limit.

▪ Nature walk, 10 a.m. to noon. Free, 20-person limit.

▪ Outdoor Wildlife Fair, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Free. There will be environmental exhibitors, art sales, children’s activities, a silent auction, plant give-away, food and more.

March 11

▪ Crocodile Lake kayak tour, 8 to 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. $55 with kayak rental or $35 if you bring your own kayak. Ten-person limit per trip. Contact Florida Bay Outfitters for reservations at (305) 451-3018.

▪ Nike Missile Site-Exploring History, 9 to 11 a.m. and noon to 2 p.m. Free. Fifteen-person limit per trip, bring flashlights for those who would like to explore the bunker.

▪ The Moths of Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, 7 to 9 p.m. Free, 30-person limit, bring bug spray and flashlight.

March 12

▪ Nighttime Nature Walk: Things That Go Bump in the Night, 7 to 9 p.m. Free, 20-person limit, bring bug spray and flashlight.

March 13

▪ The Stars at Night are Big and Bright Deep in the Heart of the Refuge, 7 to 9 p.m. Free, 20-person limit, bring bug spray and flashlight.

To register for any of these events, go to favorfloridakeys.org/outdoor-fest or call (305) 451-4223.

Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge Outdoor Fest Photography Contest for amateur photographers only. Pictures must be taken at the 2018 Outdoor Fest events at the refuge. Deadline for submission is March 18, judging will be completed by March 30. There are four submission categories: Birds and butterflies, other animal life, plant life and scenic/landscape. Prizes will be awarded in each category.

Entry Forms can be picked up at the refuge or may be requested by contacting crocodilelake@fws.gov.

Following are the National Key Deer Refuge activities planned. Most activities begin at the refuge visitor center, 179 Key Deer Blvd., in the Winn-Dixie shopping center on Big Pine Key unless otherwise noted.

March 12

▪ Moth Man: David Fine, 7 to 10 p.m. at the new Key Deer Nature Center, 30587 Overseas Highway bayside. Free, 30 person limit, bring bug spray.

March 14

▪ Reptile Walk in the Woods, 10 to a.m. to noon.

▪ Five-mile ride (back roads and fire roads on Big Pine Key), 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

▪ Nature Center open house with photography contest installation, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

March 15

▪ Birding walk, 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

▪ Reptile Walk in the Woods, 10 a.m. to noon.

▪ Creepy, Crawly Things, Insects and More, 10 a.m. to noon.

▪ Nature Sketching, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

▪ Beginners Photo Editing, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

▪ Key Deer Story: Walk in Woods, 6 to 7:30 p.m.

March 16

▪ Sunrise Photo Shoot and Morning Bird/Nature Photography, 6:30 to 8:30 a.m.

▪ Butterfly Walk, 10 a.m. to noon.

▪ Wildlife Origami, 10 to 11:30 a.m.

▪ ▪ Wetlands Wander, 1 to 3 p.m.

▪ Marsh Rabbit Ramble, 4 to 6 p.m.

▪ Run With Deer Packet Pick-Up, 5 to 7 p.m., Key Deer Visitor Center.

March 17

▪ Run With Deer 5K at Key Deer Nature Center Registration, 7 to 8 a.m., run starts 8 a.m.

▪ Open House/Wildlife Fair at Key Deer Nature Center, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be environmental exhibitors, children’s activities, a silent auction and more.

▪ Evening Star Program at Watson Nature Trails on Big Pine Key, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

To register for any of these events, go to favorfloridakeys.org/outdoor-fest. Questions? Email Nancy at flkeysoutdoorfest@gmail.com or call Kristie at (305) 304-9625.

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