Park works to recover from storm, closings
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — On the surface, Biscayne National Park has everything anyone could ever want.
It has fishing activities, canoeing, kayaking, bird watching, art shows and boat excursions. That is at least what it advertises. Recently, however, the park has gone through some difficult moments that have affected some of its core activities. Now, the park is setting up for its winter activity calendar in hopes to bring in more visitors.
|A view of the water from the Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Biscayne National Park (Photos by Ingrid Castillo).
On a quiet Saturday morning, the park visitors consist of fishermen. Not professional fishermen, but the sort that go there to relax. Walking through the Mangrove Trail, all one sees are people fishing and looking idly out to the bay.
Inside the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, there is a photographic art exhibition. Currently, it’s the latest attraction to the park aside from the fishing. But what about the canoeing, kayaking and boat tours?
“The people that use to do the tours went out of business two months ago,” stated Lucas, a park volunteer. “But some of the stuff they advertised, like glass bottom tours, they didn’t even do anymore. We just send people to John Pennekamp Park.”
It turns out that, for visitors without a boat, there are limited options to truly enjoy the aquatic features of the park. The park is mostly water, with only a small portion of Biscayne’s shoreline featuring a dense mangrove trail.
|Biscayne National Park compass at the Fascell Visitor Center is placed in the ground just outside the bayside entrance.
Visitors who own boat are welcome to approach the park and explore the islands that are about seven miles east across the bay. But most people reiied on the concession tours to explore the park. The sudden closure of their sole concession isn’t the only challenge the park is facing. Most recently, cuts emerging from the sequestration have also limited the amount of staff available to the park.
“It’s not just one thing in specific. It’s an array of bad things accumulating. You know, the concession people closing, the sequestration and Hurricane Sandy. We’ve just recently got approved by Miami-Dade County to start on some repairs caused by Sandy,” stated Park Ranger Gary Bremen.
High tides and waves have caused significant damage to the dock at Elliott Key, Biscayne’s biggest island. The harbor at Elliott Key remains shut down in the midst of getting the appropriate permits for repair.
Bremen says that the limited staff also limits the amount of people there are to prevent crime from occurring at the park. During the government shut down, though, there was an immense effort to prevent boaters from entering the park during Columbus Day weekend.
|One of the photo exhibits currently on display in the Fascell Visitor Center highlights lionfish, an invasive species.
The park hosts half a million visitors per year, which, according to Bremen, is more visitors per acre than the Everglades, Big Cypress and the Dry Tortugas. And not all hope is lost. The park is gearing up for winter season activities that will hopefully have visitors flocking to the park.
One activity available is the photography exhibit. The exhibit is called “Florida’s Forgotten Reefs” and focuses on coral reef photography from Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe County. The photographers tend to be local amateur artists. The art exhibit rotates every three months. The opening day is usually a night event where visitors get a rare glimpse of the park after hours.
Another great addition to the park is the trolley service the city of Homestead will begin to offer. The free trolley, which will go into a test run in December, will run from downtown Homestead to Biscayne National Park. Any visitor with access to public transportation can now easily reach the park.
Family Fun Fest begins in December each year. The event is a hands-on activity where kids and their parents can accomplish learning goals and have their park passport stamped. The event is held every second Sunday from December until April. Each event has a theme and the first event will be called the Hunger Games in honor of the popular books. But instead of dealing with childhood survival, the theme will be about how animals feed.
|The marine photography exhibition in the Visitor Center at Biscayne National Park.
And the canoeing? Starting Jan. 4, the park is going to be offering free canoe trips on Saturday and Sundays. In addition to the free trip and equipment, they’re also going to be offering lessons for first time users. Reservations begin in mid-December and are limited.
“I’m really looking forward to canoeing at the park. I mean it’s so beautiful but I don’t have a boat to go out there and explore. I’m thinking that the free canoe in January is the closest thing I can get to doing,” said Mabel Bautista, a tourist visiting the park.
If You Go
- Consider taking a fishing rod and camera to enjoy the scenic view.
- Check the calendar at the park website for event dates http://www.nps.gov/bisc/index.htm
- There are grills on the park so if you like to grill, pack food.
- Bring comfortable shoes to walk the mangrove trail.
- Pack a lunch since there are no onsite restaurants or food stops.
- Make reservations for the canoe trips two weeks before the Jan. 4, 2014 date.
Convoy Point can be reached from either the Florida Turnpike or from U.S. 1.
- From the Florida Turnpike: Take the Florida Turnpike south, to Exit 6 (Speedway Boulevard.). Turn left from exit ramp and continue south to SW 328th Street (North Canal Drive). Turn left and continue to the end of the road. It is approximately five miles and the entrance is on the left.
- From U.S. 1: Drive south to Homestead. Turn left on SW 328th Street (North Canal Drive), and continue to the end of the road. It is approximately nine miles, and the entrance is on the left.