Travel and Beaches
Fort DeSoto: Historic Fun In The Sun
It's at the southernmost tip of Pinellas County, cradled in the shadow of the Sunshine Skyway and visited by thousands of people a year. But while most people say they are going to Fort DeSoto Park, they are actually visiting a collection of five keys that make up the 900-acre county park and provide seven miles of pristine beach. Fort DeSoto, named after the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto, was built in 1898 in an effort to provide protection to Tampa Bay during the Spanish-American War. Built for $155,000, the fort boasted concrete ceilings and walls that ranged in thickness from five to 20 feet. The eight, 12-inch mortars were capable of firing shells up to 6.8 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.The fort also was manned during World War I and was a sub-post of MacDill Field during World War II. Never in its history did the fort fire on an enemy. In the late 1940s, the fort was sold to Pinellas County and the park was dedicated on May 11, 1963. Today, the park provides two piers for fishing that are outfitted with bait, tackle and food stores. There are four miles of paved bike trails, picnic, a boat ramp and swimming beaches with lifeguards during the season. Be sure to bring change to pay the various tolls along the way.The camping area has 235 sites with water and electric hook-ups, a charcoal grill, restrooms and laundry facilities. And the names of the five keys: Mullet, Madelaine, St. Jean, St. Christopher and Bonne Fortune.