DUNEDIN — In 2008-09, more than 1.2 million people visited Honeymoon Island State Park, the biggest influx of guests since it opened 27 years ago. It is the second year in a row the natural, windswept destination with its crystal-clear water and powdery white sand was Florida's most-visited state park. Here's a closer look at this local gem.
Honeymoon Island's modern history starts in 1883 when it was known as Hog Island. Around 1919, the northern part was bought by Ed Haley, who also owned the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater. He raised hogs, though some said the island was also used for rum running. In 1938, the property was sold to Clinton Mozely Washburn for $25,000. Rustic cottages were built, and honeymooners from across the United States spent their first weeks of wedded bliss on the island. In 1964, a causeway linking Dunedin to the island was completed, and the state, through a series of purchases during the 1970s, bought the property and turned it into a state park on Dec. 7, 1981.
Why people love it
Park manager Pete Krulder attributes Honeymoon Island's recent surge in visitors to several factors.
• Dr. Beach (Stephen Leatherman) in 2008 named neighboring Caladesi Island State Park the best beach in the United States. To get to Caladesi, you must first hop on the ferry docked on Honeymoon Island.
• Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs closed in September for a year. Beachgoers who used that stretch of sand are now driving south to Honeymoon Island to skim board, swim and catch some rays.
• A bald eagle chick was born Feb. 14, bringing flocks of bird watchers. It has since flown away, Krulder said, but its parents may return next year.
• It's pet friendly, with a dog park on the south beach. The animals are also allowed on the marked trails and picnic area. A watering hole, washing station and cleanup bag dispenser are in the parking lot.
• It's a cheap way to spend the day. It costs $4 for one person in one car, $8 for two to eight people, and $2 for each additional passenger. There's no admission fee for children under 6. Pedestrians and bicyclists pay $2.
Species that call the island home include:
• Black skimmers.
• Great horned owls.
• Sea turtles (at nesting time).
• Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes (Krulder said there is no record of any bitting).