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I apologize for the somewhat unwieldy title, but it seemed the best way to express the idea I was reaching for. There are three counties in the United States of America that are not reachable from land. I am excluding the counties of Alaska, because they don't exist, and excluding the counties of Hawaii because I can. But in what is called the continental United States, or more pedantically correctly the "coterminous United States", there are only three county level governments that reside totally on islands unreachable by bridge. They are:

  • Nantucket County, Massachusetts: A wealthy resort community about two dozen miles off of the southern shore of Cape Cod, which is served by an airport where a constant stream of Lear Jets bring in wealthy visitors, and by ferry service that goes to Barnstable, Massachusetts. Nantucket is a small, crescent shaped island, about 10 miles by 5 miles, with a full time population of 10,000, and a tourist population of probably much, much more than that.
  • Dukes County, Massachusetts: Slightly to the west of Nantucket County, slightly bigger, slightly closer to land, with slightly more people. Dukes County is the home of Martha's Vineyard, another wealthy resort community. Like Nantucket County, Dukes County has quite extensive air and ferry service, as befits a tourist location.
  • San Juan County, Washington: We jump clear across the country for our third insular county. Although the geography has changed, the picture is still somewhat similar. San Juan County, which lies in the strait between the mainland of Washington and Vancouver Island in Canada, is a small, isolated yet wealthy community. Or set of communities: unlike the previous two, this is a group of islands, with some of them being well connected to the outside world, whereas others are small and off-grid. The San Juans are a tourist destination, although they are more isolated than the two big name resort communities on the East Coast. Like them, however, they are well served by both small airports and extensive ferry service.

These then, are the only three totally insular counties in the United States. However, let us look at some of the runners-up, the ones that the reader right now may be thinking "But wait, what about..."

  • Key West, Florida: The Florida Keys, including Key West, would be a good candidate, except for two reasons: they are connected to the mainland by a long stretch of US Highway 1, and the Florida Keys are in Monroe County . Almost all of the population of Monroe County is in the Florida Keys, but a great deal of its area is in the uninhabited southwest corner of the mainland. Thus, while the Florida Keys are a good example of an insular area, they do not fit our criteria.
  • Grand Isle County, Vermont: Is a county consisting of a peninsula and several islands in Lake Champlain. The county is disqualified because it is connected to the rest of Vermont by several bridges. However, it is connected by land to Canada. Thus, Grand Island County is more easily accessible through Canada than it is from the United States. While this is an interesting situation, it does not quite count as a truly insular county.
  • Terrebonne Parrish, Louisiana: Or several other parrishes in the South of Louisiana. While the south of Louisiana may be very hard to reach by normal land transport, and it may sometimes be difficult to see where the sea ends and the land begins, a conventional map will still show these areas attached to land. Therefore, I have decided against calling them islands, although in many ways, they are more isolated than the communities that are islands but have a fleet of private aircraft flying in all hours day and night. However, this node is about geographic insularity, not figurative insularity, which is covered in another node
  • The Channel Islands of California are certainly insular communities, but they are not an independent county. The populated islands are part of Los Angeles County, California.
  • Island County, Washington: Close to above mentioned San Juan County, Island County would seem to be a good candidate for inclusion, perhaps based solely on its name. However, Island County, which consists mostly of Whidbey Island, is an insular area, but one that is connected to the mainland by bridge. Thus, it fails our strict criteria.

Thus ends another diversion into the convulted, diverse landscape of American geography. I think that my census of insular counties was complete, but if anyone has any other information, please inform me. And while this may seem like a piece of trivia, it is actually meant to reflect, in a fractal fashion, the larger issues of similarities and differences within the geography and demography of the United States of America.

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