Pending county approval, ferry service to Pigeon Key will continue

This is the entrance to Pigeon Key’s railroad museum.
This is the entrance to Pigeon Key’s railroad museum. Keynoter

Peggy and Jerry Lucas were two of seven passengers on the Paradise Divers ferry to Pigeon Key Tuesday morning.

The couple, on vacation from California, hitched a ride from Knights Key at mile marker 47 to the island 2.2 miles from the Marathon end of the Seven Mile Bridge to snorkel the crystal clear water that surrounds it.

Every day, Larry Wright taxis multiple people like the Lucases to the historic island, a former railroad-worker camp, aboard his two 30-foot-long Island Hoppers.

Wright owns Paradise Divers, the parent company of the Pigeon Key Ferry. Today, county commissioners are set to vote on extending Wright’s contract through June 30, 2018, totaling $231,249.40, when they meet at the Harvey Government Center in Key West.

Included in the amount are $125,000 from the Florida Department of Transportation, $17,343.75 from the city of Marathon and $1,406.25 from the Pigeon Key Foundation. The contract began in 2008 when the 2.2-mile section of the old Seven Mile Bridge was closed to vehicle traffic.

The bridge closed to foot traffic in July 2016 when DOT began a 30-year rehabilitation project. The closure is for 300 days and work on the old bridge, which is riddled with problems from the decking falling apart to the railings rusting and breaking, should start in late fall, said city Public Works Director Carlos Solis.

When the bridge closed to vehicles, people could walk to the island, take a trolly or Wright’s ferry. Now that his ferry service is the only way to get to the island, Wright said ridership is “off the chart.”

“Every year, it gets busier and busier,” he said. The Pigeon Key Foundation hosts educational programs and historic tours and Wright can ferry 22 people on the boats with a minimum four trips a day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

“And that’s on top of educational groups any time of the day or night. Our motto is ‘You call, we haul,’ ” Wright said, adding on a busy day, he might take 200 people on the 30-minute round trip and on an average day, he transports about 50 people.

“It’s go, go, go every day except for major holidays. Someone has got to keep hauling people, so we’re happy to be the ones that continue to do it,” Wright said, adding he has four full-time employees that help.

The ferries take off from the Pigeon Key Visitor Center at 1 Knights Key Blvd. in Marathon.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219