Aerial view of Dry Tortugas National Park
|KEY WEST, Florida Keys - The campground at Dry Tortugas National Park, located 68 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, has reopened with new toilet facilities, new grills for cookouts and a walkway for disabled visitors and pedestrians. Located on tiny Garden Key - home of Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere - the campground was closed for more than 18 months after heavy rains contributed to the failure of its septic system.
Dry Tortugas National Park is made up of seven tiny coral-and-sand islands and their pristine surrounding waters. Its awe-inspiring centerpiece, Fort Jefferson, is America's largest 19th-century coastal fort.
When its construction was begun in 1846, the fort was envisioned as a necessary component in controlling navigation in the Gulf of Mexico. During the Civil War, it served as a Union military prison for captured deserters, housing Dr. Samuel Mudd and three other men convicted of complicity in Abraham Lincoln's assassination.
In 1908 the fort and the islands surrounding it became a wildlife refuge. It became Fort Jefferson National Monument in 1935 and Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992.
Visitors to the park can tour the massive fort, snorkel and swim in the clear Tortugas waters and observe migratory birds. More than 280 species of birds have been sighted on the islands of the Tortugas.
The campground features eight small campsites and a large site that can accommodate a group of approximately 15 people. Camping is primitive, with no electricity or fresh water provided, and campers must bring in all supplies and remove all garbage.
Camping fees are $3 per person per night, and space is available on a first-come, first-served basis. All campers must pay the $5 per person park entrance fee as well. Reservations 30 days in advance are required for the large campsite.
The park can be accessed by ferry or seaplane from Key West, with trips departing daily. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/drto or call 305-242-7700.