Biscayne dazzles visitors with natural beauty
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Biscayne National Park, located on the far southeastern edge of North America, dazzles visitors every day with its stunning beauty.
Made up of 95 percent water, a multitude of different species calls the park’s waters home, creating a spectacle for boaters and fishers alike. Yet, as most visitors come to the park, the first stop is made at the Visitor Center.
Biscayne National Park was named a national monument in 1968 and was recognized as a national park in 1980. In 1992, however, Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida, especially Homestead, and the Visitor Center at the park was destroyed. Nevertheless, a short five years later, the new one was built, and has been open and running ever since.
|The Fascell Visitor Center at Biscayne National Park offers remarkable views of Biscayne Bay, such as this one at right, looking east from the second floor porch (Photos by Harrison Raboy). Below, the bookstore and Information Desk area of the Visitor Center.|
Congressman Dante Fascell, who served the state of Florida for many years, was a main force behind creation of the park and convinced President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the dotted line and make Biscayne a National Monument in 1968.
Because of his efforts, the visitor center is named the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, with a welcome sign and plaque commemorating his dedication and work for the preservation of the park.
Just a short walk from the parking lot, the Visitor Center is constructed with two levels and made of wooden balconies that overlook the Biscayne Bay water. On a sunny, picture-perfect day, the view was gorgeous, with the gentle waves rippling on the water. Out on a balcony, there are places to sit in rocking chairs and enjoy the view, with a gentle breeze making it a comfortable atmosphere.
Upstairs is where visitors are welcomed, with helpful volunteers and park rangers ready to answer any question.
Down the hall, there is a small theater that offers different types of short films about the park, such as an introductory welcome movie that displays the wonders of the park. To the left lies the exhibit center, which is an incredible display of artwork.
The exhibit center is located behind the front desk, and you feel as though you are entering a magical mangrove when you first walk in. Although all artificial, the display is cleaned and maintained daily, allowing it to constantly sparkle and look life-like.
The design is laid out similarly to the layout of the park, with each design representing one of the four different ecosystems the park has to offer. Accompanying each of these four designs is a description of each, depicting what types of life you might find in this ecosystem, and the different qualities about each.
The exhibit also contains interesting information about the beginnings of the park.
It tells the story of the Tequesta Indians, who were the first to call the area home. It then moves on to the millionaires and mansions that inhabited Biscayne, and how the park materialized into the national treasure that it is today.
Outside the exhibit area is the front desk, where there is always a friendly face willing to help you out. Because the season for tourists does not really start until late November, there were only three workers on site, and they were all full time staff.
Chris Beers, a park ranger who does interpretation and communication for the park, connects visitors with the park, dealing with environmental learning, mainly with younger kids. He maintains the exhibits and discusses life at the park.
“I have to make sure the exhibit is always clean and looks realistic; otherwise, it loses all its charm,” Beers explained.
There are skulls at the front desk, and they are actual skulls and bones of different species. There are skulls ranging from shark heads to the bones of mahi mahi and they are available to touch, hold and admire. For a young child, playing with those skulls is an exciting proposition.
|At left, a shark skull on display in the hands-on touch table in the Visitor Center. Below, the entrance sign welcoming visitors to the park.|
“I like the Visitor Center because kids come in all wide-eyed and excited, see everything, like the skulls and want to learn more,” Beers said.
The Dante Fascell Visitor Center creates an interactive, interesting and inviting way to welcome guests to the Biscayne National Park. The Visitor Center is where you can learn, sign up for activities such as kayaking or snorkeling, and where you can grab a cold drink.
Once you leave the Visitor Center, the beauty of Biscayne awaits.
If You Go
Biscayne National Park
9700 SW 328th St., Homestead, FL 33033
Because the park is mainly made up of water, the Visitor Center is the only real building at the park. Surrounding the Visitor Center is areas for walking, launch pads for boats to explore the keys and fishing spots.
The park can be reached by taking Florida Turnpike or U.S. 1 North.
The Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and the convoy point is open from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The water is accessible 24 hours a day.
There is no admission fee into the park, but the extra activities cost various amounts of money.
Snorkeling, kayaking, boat trips and camping are available. Call 305-230-1120 for more information.