Concession closes, park provides options

HOMESTEAD, Fla.—For Brenda Vernon, Biscayne National Park was visit number 39 out of the 59 national parks. However her visit was limited because she didn’t have a boat.

In October, the concession in charge of boat tours, snorkeling and scuba dives to the different islands went out of business, leaving visiting families that do not own a boat without a way to explore the beautiful waters and land of the park.

A view of Biscayne Bay from the boardwalk near the Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Biscayne National Park (Photos by Andrea Jacobo). bnpalternatives1

“I know it’s not the park’s fault and they’re doing their best to provide us things to do,” said Vernon, who came to explore all of South Florida’s parks, including the three other parks of the region.

There are a number of activities available for those without to do on the mainland as well as opportunities to explore the deep blue waters of BNP.

On the mainland, where the Dante Fascell Visitor Center is located, there is a picnic area provides families a rich art and history culture and relaxing scenery for their family meals.

In the visitor center, families can enjoy learning about BNP history by walking through the artifacts and history exhibition explaining the hundreds of years of human history to the majestic beauty of underwater species, along with sounds of the park.

Short-term art exhibitions highlighting the area’s nature through photography and contemporary art also gives families a different perspective of the nation’s largest marine national park.

The current exhibition, “Florida’s Forgotten Reefs,” is a collection of photographs by members of the South Florida Underwater Photography Society capturing the colorful hues of coral reefs.  It is an effort to raise awareness of the importance of coral reefs to the marine ecosystem as well as the danger the reef system is facing.

bnpalternatives2 A family picnics on the edge of Biscayne Bay at the visitor center of Biscayne National Park.

“I’ve never been snorkeling or scuba diving, so it was great to see how beautiful the reefs are through the exhibition,” Vielka Duran said, a first time visitor to BNP and Miami local. “It’s a whole another world down there that needs to be preserved.”

The exhibition ends on Nov. 24, but a new exhibition “In the Park, Outta the Box, ” a contemporary art exhibition, by The Outsider Gallery of Cutler Bay, comprised of photos, paintings and textiles, will soon takes its place on Dec. 6.

On opening day, a wine and cheese reception will be held in the evening where visitors can have the chance to meet the artists.

“The park is usually never open at night, so it will be a nice for visitors to enjoy the park out on the front porch surrounded by artists, wine, and even music—we’re working on that,” said Ranger Gary Bremen, the exhibit planner who has worked at park for 18 years.

Along with the art exhibits, families can enjoy watching short videos about BNP’s history from its own screening room. Visitors can choose from any video from the environmental pioneers to the story of the Jones Family who lived on Porgy Key.

Kids as well as adults have the opportunity to participate in the Junior Ranger Program, a three-part program with nearby Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. Participants complete the respective park activities and receive a patch upon completion. If they receive all three patches, a junior ranger badge will be awarded.

“I have adults that completed the program as a kid and come in as adults, sometimes with their own kids, and still participate in the program,” Bremen said.

Starting Saturday, families can also enjoy the “Ranger’s Choice” sessions that entail of a walking tour or talk by a park ranger held from 11a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  This week will be a talk called “Gifts of the Sea “ which is led by Bremen.

A couple is birdwatching from a picnic table near the boardwalk at Biscayne National Park. bnpalternatives3

BNP’s yearly Family Fun Fest, running from December to April 2014 on second Sunday of every month, provides enjoyable and educational activities for every member of the family.

“Just how Disney movies are written on two levels, a level that appeals to the little kids that makes them giggle and then there’s a whole other level that only adults get, that’s model for Family Fun Fest, ” Bremen said, “We want something the whole family can enjoy, a true essence of family fun.”

Each month, there’s a different theme from “The Hungry Games” to “A Sesame Street Salute.” A new addition to this year’s festival is Family Fun Fest Junior that provides activities for toddlers.

Since the boat concession is temporarily unavailable, park rangers will be expanding their guided canoe and kayak trips. Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, they will also provide canoe lessons, for those who don’t want to commit to a full canoe trip. The canoe rentals are free and guests are more than welcome to bring their own canoes.

One activity that is popular among families is having a picnic outside while enjoying the South Florida sunshine and having BNP’s vast bay as their backdrop.

“It’s peaceful and a true hidden gem; I come here every Sunday with my family to have our barbeques since I’ve moved down here. I love it!”  said visitor Kevin Thomas, originally from Nashville and who has been living with his family in South Florida for six years.

Although the boat concession may no longer provide services to the islands within the park, families can still disconnect from hustle bustle of the city and enjoy what the park has to offer.

“Biscayne National Park is pristine, clean and peaceful, Christy Thivodeau said, a BNP volunteer from Maine. “You can see the city from here but you’re not a part it. I’m just fine with that.”


If You Go

Biscayne National Park
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Homestead, Fla.


Art Exhibitions

  • “Florida’s Forgotten Reefs,” open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ends on Nov. 24.
  • “In the Park, Outta the Box,” starting from Dec. 6 to Feb. 23, 2014. Opening reception on Dec. 6 from 6-10 p.m.

Family Fun Fest

  • “The Hungry Games” — Dec. 8, 2013
  • “Wrestling with Trash” — Jan. 12, 2014
  • “Biscayne Wintergames” — Feb. 9, 2014
  • “Down on the Farm” — March 9, 2014
  • “A Sesame Street Salute” — April 13,2014

Junior Ranger Program

  • Ask front desk in the Dante Fiscell Visitor for booklet and further instructions.

Ranger’s Choice

  • Starting Nov. 23, every other Saturday from 11 a.m.- 2:30 p.m.

Kayaking and Canoe Guided Trips

  • Starting on Jan. 4, check BNP website for more updates.

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