The 59th annual Columbus Day Regatta, a sailboat race, will begin off of Dinner Key on Saturday, Oct. 12.
Although the Columbus Day Regatta originally ended in Biscayne National Park, seven years ago the race was rerouted to avoid entering the park. However, thousands of boaters continue to congregate in the park for increasingly rowdy parties not associated with the Columbus Day Regatta.
Park officials are urging boaters to reconsider gathering in the park during Columbus Day Weekend (Oct. 11-14) based on concerns for public safety and impacts to resources of national significance.
“We welcome visitors to come and enjoy a weekend boating responsibly in the park,” said Brian Carlstrom, Biscayne National Park superintendent. “However, boating, alcohol, and crowded conditions characteristic of the Columbus Day Weekend gatherings are a dangerous combination that threatens public safety.”
In the past decade, six deaths and numerous injuries occurred in separate accidents over Columbus Day Weekend, the most dangerous boating weekend in the park. Park resources have sustained damage from vessel groundings and excessive litter. Water sampling in the anchorage area during the event detected fecal coliform bacteria not normally present. None of the samples collected indicated fecal coliform levels exceeding public health standards.
Officials from multiple local, state and federal agencies again are gearing up to enforce laws and provide emergency response during Columbus Day Weekend in Biscayne National Park. Agencies include: neighboring municipal police departments, Miami-Dade Police Department, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine, and other national parks. Stepped-up enforcement will focus on boating under the influence, “rafting” of more than five vessels, excessively loud music, and illegal commercial activities. Structures at Stiltsville are closed to the general public and will be closely monitored. During Columbus Day Weekend, 2012, officials made over 200 cases at the gathering.
“With zero tolerance enforcement in place, fines in excess of $5,000 and up to six months jail time, the price is high for failure to boat responsibly and abide by laws and regulations in the park,” said Officer Wayne Rybeck, incident commander for the event. “The risk and liability associated with operating a boat and partying in a national park are substantial.”
Those who wish to gather in the park over Columbus Day Weekend are encouraged to appoint a designated skipper, be alert for swimmers and boaters operating under the influence, avoid operating at night, maintain control of trash, obey laws and regulations, and respect their national park.
More information and frequently asked questions for a Columbus Day Weekend visit to Biscayne National Park can be found at www.nps.gov/bisc. For more information on Biscayne National Park, call 305-230-7275, ext. 0.