While we often visit Atsena Otie Key when in the Cedar Keys, it was time to paddle the other way and explore Scale Key. Definitely an interesting paddle and one that requires paying attention to the tides!…James
Scale Key is part of the Cedar Keys chain located in Levy County. It is 3/4 mile East of the Channel 3 Bridge and 1.2 miles northeast of Cedar Key. Information on Scale Key is limited, but thanks to the help of Toni C. Collins, local author and President of the Levy County Historical Society, Inc, I was able to get a tidbit of information on Scale Key. I also found online, The Executive Documents of the 13th Congress 1847, which show that the Cedar Keys were reserved for occupation under The Armed Occupation Act of 1842. This act was to allow individuals with arms, to settle unoccupied lands in the Florida peninsula to help control any uprisings from the Seminole Indians that still remained in Florida. One of the names listed in this document was Owen Carrigan, who was granted Permit # 538 to establish a settlement on Scale Key.
Mrs. Collins provided information that 6 men are listed in the 1860 Federal Census as laborers residing on Scale Key, working for G.H. Hobestom at that time. Mrs. Collins wrote…
“These men were probably working on the construction of the Florida Railroad from Fernandina to Cedar Key. The rail line was completed to within 420-feet of the end of the big dock when a storm came through the Cedar Keys and demolished the four trestles connecting the mainland with Way Key where the big dock was located and the rail line ended.“
A close friend of Mrs. Collins, Mrs. E Yearty, also added some information…
“Scale Key is the island, my granddaddy, William P. Delaino, was born on in 1882. Other siblings born there include: Catherine, 1869; George, 1877; Euphemia, 1886; Nena, 1889. Johnny Andrew’s grandmother, Sarah Jane, another sibling, was born in Apalachicola in 1875. Then the family moved back to Scale Key. According to my granddaddy’s history, he wrote that “his father, Captain John Delaino, did almost anything to make a dame those days [on Scale Key], for there were not many dollars that a man could get a hold of. He (John) fished, oystered, caulked boats, pruned grape arbors, raised a garden and chickens on this island, Scale Key.” Also from his history, he stated part, if not all, of their time they lived in a boarding house (hotel) on Scale Key. Also living in this boarding house was his daughter, Sarah Jane, and her husband William Tooke. They had 15 kids, four of whom were born while the family lived at Scale Key. In 1894, John and Martha Delaino moved their family “over to town” (Cedar Key).”
Currently, the group of keys is managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge.
The Scale Key Paddle Route…
Scale Key Details:
Launch/Take Out Point: The launch areas are located at the City Park Beach and on G Street
Rentals are available at the following locations:
Kayak Cedar Keys – 6027 A St, Cedar Key, FL 32625 – 352-543-9447
Cedar Key Paddling. Bait, Tackle, & Rentals – 12293 FL-24, Cedar Key, FL 32625 – 352-665-1276
Cedar Key Boat Rentals &Island Tours – 8070 A St, Cedar Key, FL 32625 – 352-231-4435
Paddle Distance: 5.2 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate. I say moderate because it is important to know the tides when exploring the Cedar Keys to keep from being stranded at low tide.
Average Paddle Speed: 2.2 mph.
Width and Depth: The depth of the water on this paddle ranged form 2′ down to several inches.
Current – Tidal: This is definitely tidal influenced and a current is experienced at the changing of these tides.
Side Paddles: There is ample opportunity to explore all of the Cedar Keys. With a good high tide, there are numerous areas to explore around Scale Key.
Rest Areas: Restrooms available at the launch.
Important Information: Check the tides for this paddle to make sure low tide is not a problem. Wind can also create an added factor in enjoying this paddle.
City Park Launch…
Paddling over to Atsena Otie Key is always an exciting, fun paddle. We usually time our paddles to take advantage of high tide. As a result, the high water will allow us to explore the interior of the key in addition to the outer shoreline. The launch is a nice sandy beach at City Park just East of the Marina. There is no fee to launch and parking is free along the park sidewalk. Get there early as parking becomes hard to find as the morning gets later. Restrooms are available at the park.
There was little information I could find about Scale Key. One source mentioned it was named Scale Key due to the scales that were used to weigh the cargo coming to the hotel located on the key. I could not get that verified, but we launched at the City Park Beach and on G Street and headed northeast to Scale Key.
It was still 3 hours away from high tide so we hoped we would have good luck maneuvering the key with a rising tide. With Dog Island ahead to our right we paddled a 1/4 mile and turned into an inlet on our left to see if we could maneuver the flats to Scale Island, protected from the breeze. The tide was still too low and after 1/4 mile in we reached our navigable limit and returned out to the main waterway.
We stayed about 250′ offshore as it was still too shallow to get any closer. In the far distance, a long strip of white sandy beach was visible about a mile out. Also out in the distance were the many clam and oyster beds, marked with numerous tall poles a few feet out of the water.
At about a mile and a half, the shoreline of Scale Key veered to the northwest as we reached the northern tip of the Key. We stopped and took a break before venturing forward into unfamiliar waters.
A labyrinth a mid-tide…
Proceeding ahead, the goal now was to return to the launch by cutting through the numerous passages we encountered, paddling South. To the West was SR 24 and the #3 Bridge, ahead, a mile in the distance, were the rooftops of the condos near the beach where we launched. In between us and the launch were numerous oyster beds still above water despite the rising tide. It took a series of efforts, paddling into several passages that ended in shallow non-navigable water before we followed the marked crab traps that led to wider passages and out to the main water just West of Dog Island.
During this exploration, paddling into a small cove, we came across a small rookery. In the mangroves were numerous Ibis and Roseate Spoonbills ( Platalea ajaja )! A treat for our efforts. They were located at 29° 8’32.12″N, 83° 1’34.83″W.
Paddling the Cedar Keys is always rewarding. This was a first for me, to explore around Scale Key and deserves a return, at high tide!