Deer Run Beckons Eco-Savvy Travelers

Carol Shaughnessy | April 2010

The Lower Florida Keys, located between Marathon and Key West, are a low-key paradise for people seeking a laid-back getaway — a place where wildlife is protected, and nightlife means watching the sun set and the moon rise over the water.

Deer Run takes its name from the tiny, shy Key deer that wander its tranquil grounds. (All photos courtesy of Deer Run)

Deer Run takes its name from the tiny, shy Key deer that wander its tranquil grounds. (All photos courtesy of Deer Run)

One of the undisputed highlights of this tranquil region is Deer Run Bed and Breakfast.

Deer Run lies down a winding road on Big Pine Key, nestled on a secluded, tree-shaded Atlantic Ocean beach close to two wildlife preserves. And when you arrive, you’ll find an environmental focus that extends far beyond the property’s location: virtually every aspect of the small Caribbean-style inn reflects its innkeepers’ earth-friendly mindset.

For example, breakfast means vegetarian feasts prepared by Jennifer DeMaria, who owns Deer Run with her fiancé Harry Appel. You’ll savor home-baked breads and fruits, predominantly organic and sourced locally — plus organic and fair-trade coffee and tea that are an absolute delight.

Each morning, Jen dreams up vegetarian feasts to delight hungry guests.

Each morning, Jen dreams up vegetarian feasts to delight hungry guests. Most of the food she serves is organic and locally sourced.

In addition, all the guestrooms feature organic cotton towels, and cruelty-free eco-friendly products are used throughout the inn. Lighting at the property is 90-percent solar powered.

Deer Run’s grounds feature surprising nooks, shady areas and a hammock for lounging. Jen and Harry have an organic garden and water for irrigation is collected in rain barrels. They even use a biodiesel tractor for maintaining Deer Run’s Atlantic-front beach that’s surrounded by shade trees and plants.

The beach, by the way, is a small treasure — and guests aren’t alone in favoring the sandy spot. It’s not unusual to see tiny Key deer, a rare species that’s protected and cherished in the Lower Keys, wandering unconcernedly along the beach and shoreline.

As well as putting their eco-friendly philosophy into practice at their inn, Jen and Harry encourage guests to enjoy low-impact nature-oriented activities throughout the Lower Keys.

Kayaking from the secluded Atlantic-front beach is a favorite pastime.

Kayaking from the secluded Atlantic-front beach is a favorite "green" pastime -- and allows exploration of the Lower Keys' fascinating and diverse environment.

They might suggest you check out the beautiful beach and indigenous plantings at Bahia Honda State Park, explore the nearby National Key Deer Refuge, try snorkeling or diving Looe Key Reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, or kayak in the shallow mangrove areas rich in bird life.

Actually, you don’t even have to leave the property to try your kayaking skills. To promote the use of people-powered instead of engine-powered water craft, Jen and Harry keep kayaks on hand for their guests’ use — plus an intriguing aqua bike.

As you might expect, the protected hideaway is a mecca for environmentally savvy travelers. But they’re not the only ones taking notice of Deer Run.

In late 2007, the eco-friendly haven became the Lower Florida Keys’ first certified member of the Florida Green Lodging Program, created to recognize the state’s environmentally conscious accommodations.

Rainwater is collected in a cistern to water the eco-friendly hideaway's indigenous trees and plants.

Rainwater is collected to irrigate the trees and plants that surround the eco-friendly hideaway.

In 2009, it was named to the “Islands Magazine” Blue List that celebrates leaders and innovators in sustainable travel. Of the 24 worldwide honorees on the list, Deer Run was the only one in the continental United States.

Most recently, Jen and Harry’s piece of paradise earned a prestigious Green Living Award from the Keys’ Green Living & Energy Education organization. Winners are chosen for their efforts in conserving natural resources, reducing waste and lessening environmental impact.

“When we came here, we expected to work very hard, deliver something different than people expect — better than people even know they want or need — and do it while having a sense of gratitude and respect for our natural surroundings and community,” said Jen.

Luckily for the guests who discover Deer Run, the engaging pair has succeeded … on all counts.

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