Matheson Hammock Park’s 630 acres comprise one of the few remaining open spaces in the county that offer easy access and largely unspoiled natural habitat.
Miami-Dade County is planning an update and upgrade for this jewel of a park, which dates to 1930. The county’s stated goals are to protect and enhance the park’s natural and historical resources, anticipate sea level rise, and increase overall accessibility. That’s commendable.
But, this being Miami, a handful of wealthy homeowners are pushing a plan essentially to annex and privatize the western part of Matheson Hammock. If successful, the homeowners in Hammock Lakes would have a signature public park mostly to themselves.
This west area of Matheson Hammock usually is referred to as either “the Matheson nursery” or as “the dog park.” The county has used a portion as a nursery for decades. Generations of dog owners — and hikers, bikers, bird watchers and picnickers — have enjoyed the park’s fields and wooded trails.
Therein lies the problem with the residents of Hammock Lakes, where teardowns start at $4 million and many homes top $12 million. They don’t want outsiders using School House Road off Kendall Drive to access West Matheson Park, which is in the City of Coral Gables but is owned and operated by the county.
Never mind that the park’s access road is a public street. Never mind that all vehicles must stop at a private guardhouse with a real guard and video cameras. Never mind there usually is at least one Coral Gables police cruiser nearby — and the fact that this public park predates this neighborhood.
These homeowners want the county to keep out all vehicles from driving past their homes, by closing the north and west entrances accessed via the public road and private guardhouse. All vehicles would have to park along Old Cutler Road. That’s a burden for park visitors from the north who would have to endure more of trafficchoked Old Cutler, and then fight over parking.
Worse, everyone must then hike a third of a mile along a wooded trail. What about the elderly, physically challenged? They will have to tough it out — or stay home. Also, it’s a birdwatching trail, and dogs and birds don’t go together. Most galling, we taxpayers would pay to install landscape “buffers” for the lucky homeowners abutting the park. Talk about hitting the jackpot.
The county has two basic options for West Matheson — do a minimal facelift, or a complete makeover. Most current park visitors prefer a minimalist approach.
If you insist on a full gussy-up, then make West Matheson more like the eastern portion by installing picnic shelters and bathrooms. While you are at it, put in baseball and soccer/football fields, like Tropical Park. Easily 10 soccer fields, two baseball fields, one lacrosse field and two volleyball courts. There would still be room for dogs.
In no event, however, should we deny direct vehicle access to West Matheson. In no event should we close the north and west entrances.
We need to tell Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez to state clearly and unequivocally that they oppose this land grab and will keep West Matheson accessible by vehicles.
Mayor Gimenez’s staff is responsible for drafting the proposals. Commissioner Suarez will be the point person for approving or denying those plans when they come to a vote at the county.