FLORIDA KEYS — To commemorate the Middle Keys’ recently reopened Old Seven Mile Bridge that parallels the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, a social media trivia competition is offering entrants a chance to win a getaway to explore Marathon and its unique visitor experiences.
Among them is enjoying “Old Seven,” the scenic 2.2-mile section of the bridge that serves as both a linear park and a gateway to historic Pigeon Key. Nestled beneath the bridge, the tiny island of Pigeon Key was once home to about 400 workers constructing the railroad.
The “Old Seven Middle Keys Adventure” trivia challenge kicks off Monday, March 14, with the winner to receive a three-night Keys vacation. To enter, participants must complete a short trivia quiz about the island chain’s historic elements such as Henry Flagler’s Over-Sea Railroad and America’s first undersea park.
Valued at over $3,500, the contest’s prize includes vouchers for air travel and car rental and three nights' accommodations at Isla Bella Beach Resort. The winner and a guest also can experience Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, the Turtle Hospital and Pigeon Key and cycle the Marathon area on legendary “Keys cruisers” from Bike Marathon Bike Rentals.
The trip giveaway entry period begins at 9 a.m. (EDT) Monday, March 14, and continues through 11:59 p.m. (EDT) Monday, March 28. Rules and terms are to be available on the contest page.
Just one entry per person is valid, with the winner to be randomly selected from all eligible submissions. Entrants must be legal U.S. residents and age 21 or older. Contest results are to be announced by April 6.
History of the Old Seven Mile Bridge
Begun in 2017, the renovation of “Old Seven” is part of a 30-year agreement between the Keys' Monroe County, Marathon municipal officials and the Florida Department of Transportation to fund restoration along with a maintenance program to ensure the landmark's preservation.
Restoration work included structural steel and spalling and bridge joint system repairs; new decking, pedestrian and bicycle handrails; and other physical enhancements to make the 2.2-mile span safer for recreational use.
In 1938, the original railroad bridge was converted to carry automobiles. In 1982, the new Seven Mile Bridge (actually 6.79 miles long and one of the world's longest segmental bridges) debuted alongside the historic one and the old bridge's steel swing span, which had facilitated marine traffic, was removed.
The retired "Old Seven" evolved primarily into a recreation area that proved extremely popular.
"Nearly five years ago now, when they did close down the bridge, that year prior nearly a quarter of a million people came out to use this bridge," said Kelly McKinnon, executive director of the Pigeon Key Foundation. "It really is more of a linear park, where people can come out and recreate and go biking, walking, cycling, running, take a look at all the marine resources whether it be spotting turtles, sharks, rays, tarpon ... it's just an unbelievable experience for individuals and families to come out and take advantage of."
Today Pigeon Key serves as a historic and educational center, with a railroad museum and original structures that date back to the early 1900s Flagler era, when the bridge leading out to it was being built.
"As you come onto Pigeon Key, you really do step back in time," McKinnon said. "It's fantastic to walk around, see these original structures, be on the same ground that these men 100-plus years ago were on."
A new 60-passenger tram to take visitors back and forth to Pigeon Key is expected to be operational this spring.
Although vehicular traffic on the restored bridge is prohibited, an adjacent parking lot has been modified to accommodate up to 35 parked vehicles.
Among Marathon's experiences is enjoying “Old Seven,” the scenic 2.2-mile section of the bridge that serves as both a linear park and a gateway to historic Pigeon Key.
The oft-photographed 2.2-mile span reopened Jan. 12, 2022, to pedestrian recreation, 110 years after the bridge’s original debut as the centerpiece of railroad magnate Henry Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad.
Flagler's vision in the early 1900s facilitated transportation and linked the Florida Keys to the mainland.