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Visit to old Depot Key shows history slipping away

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By Debra Lyon-Dye

Atsena Otie, formerly Depot Key, is one of thirteen islands managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge.

The purpose of the Refuge is to protect the habitat for a variety of wildlife species, especially wading birds and shorebirds.

Research shows that Native Americans lived on the island a thousand to fifteen hundred years ago. Evidence would lead us to believe that the island started as a mudflat fishing camp for ancient paddlers. As they dropped their meals' debris of broken shells, the mudflat became more solid, a stabilized midden. It was then able to catch and grow seeds - making it an island.

Human activity and Mother Nature have made many changes. Part of Refuge Ranger Pam Darty's job is to document the current erosion. "Sand is being built up on the south shore and eroded from the north."

A recent photo-documenting trip to the island revealed severe erosion despite attempts to buffer the waves with rock "reefs" and the implanting of coconut fiber logs to create an artificial breaker. Approximately 35 feet of shoreline near the dock has virtually disappeared in the last seven years, causing part of the foundation of the old Faber Cedar Pencil Mill to topple into the water along with palms and oaks. The U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service will continue working with their partner, the Suwannee River Water Management District, to try other erosion abatement.

The island is open to the public offering a dock, interpretive information, and hiking trail that leads to the old cemetery. Beaches are accessible except where they are marked closed due to efforts to minimize erosion. Ticks and mosquitoes are numerous in the summer season and use of insect repellant is advised.

For more information go to www.fws.gov/cedakeys keys, contact Ranger Pam Darty at 493-0238 or visit the office of the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge going north 16 miles on State Road 347.