Over the last year, residents who frequent West Matheson Hammock Park have swamped Miami-Dade County officials with worried emails. So much so that Maria Nardi, Director of Miami-Dade Parks Department, recently had Miami-Dade create a new email address for her. Responses to the public have been limited to canned messages from her underlings and project notice boards posted in the park that don’t actually answer any questions.
Several op-eds have been published recently pointing out major problems with the $5 million “improvement’ for the park, pointing out that this is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. It appears that these have forced the Parks Department to turn on the PR machine and you can read the puff piece that Maria Nardi wrote here- https://communitynewspapers.com/biscayne-bay/restoring-matheson-hammock-west-park-for-all-miami-dade-residents-to-enjoy/
The exact same article ran in the Miami Herald two days later- https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article249343275.html
This is surely the first time that the exact same article has run in both Community Newspapers and the Miami Herald, and it shows the desperate PR push that Miami-Dade County is putting on to push a project that the vast majority of park goers do not want. Sadly, the Parks Director’s article skirts around all the burning issues that concerned park goers have raised and leaves us none the wiser. Can we please have some actual answers instead of spin? Here are just a few things that need to be addressed by County officials.
The regular park goers include several elderly and/or handicapped walkers who currently drive in, park, and take the short walk to safely enter the park. Once the park has been “improved”, they will have to risk 2/3rds of a mile there and back on a raised, slippery boardwalk shared with bikes and dogs, just to walk in the park. The reality is that they won’t be able to go there anymore. Even the more sprightly elderly capable of walking that far would be foolish to take the risk. Glibly saying that the boardwalk design is American Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant doesn’t help those who can’t walk that far or are frightened to walk alone through the forest. Director Nardi’s puff piece says that the park belongs to every one of the County residents yet her project locks many people out for good.
The design of the raised, wooden boardwalk with ankle high curbs and no guard rails is apparently copied from a project in San Francisco. But this is South Florida and the boardwalk will be in a moist, shady tunnel of trees that cannot and should not be cut back. It will become a slippery, leaf covered nightmare and will set Miami-Dade up for years of personal injury claims.
This lovely Great Florida Birding Trail shown in the photo passes through a vanishingly rare area of hardwood hammock that is classed as Environmentally Endangered Land. Why do the Parks Department think that it is a good idea to widen it and bring in trucks to excavate and pour concrete?
It should not be sculpted and disneyfied, future generations of walkers and bird watchers will love to find it as it is now, a peaceful green corridor of nature under the trees. If the Parks Department had bothered doing an Environmental Impact Assessment this project would have been rejected as the most environmentally damaging solution to the questions about park access. Clearly the most environmentally friendly solution is how it was pre-pandemic, with the vast majority of park visitors entering the park through the gate off Schoolhouse Road.
Maria Nardi’s article also omitted to tell readers why this project is being rushed through. Disturbingly it all results from political pressure applied by members of the Hammock Lake HOA. They seized on the pandemic induced park closure to lobby Commissioner Suarez and Mayor Gimenez, asking them to keep the gate into the park closed. They don’t want the public to be allowed to drive past a few residents’ houses on the way to this, the oldest park in Miami-Dade.
David Winker, the attorney representing the nonprofit Friends of West Matheson Hammock Park, was able to obtain documentation of County employees attending private meetings with them to discuss their desire for a fully gated community with a private park and the general public still paying for it all. Naturally they presented it otherwise, it was all about traffic, the ecology and dogs that spread Covid and eat children. The Parks Department were then instructed to dust off and modify a plan that has already been rejected twice and is now trying to railroad it through with the apparent complicity of the relevant elected officials.
Friends of West Matheson Hammock Park is championing this petition (http://chng.it/cp2ZrJFDNj) that continues to collect thousands of signatures. It is popular because it’s aims are noble and it proposes an equitable solution that benefits the handicapped, the environment, the public purse and, who knows, it may even be acceptable to the Hammock Lake HOA as it will give them reduced traffic levels.
One recent glimmer of hope was raised by Commissioner Regalado, newly elected to this district. She told the last meeting of the Recreation and Culture Committee that a few more public meetings will be held to discuss the West Matheson Hammock Park project. Her timely intervention will give Maria Nardi the opportunity to answer all the public concerns in person. In particular the elderly and the handicapped park goers want to hear why she wants to stop them visiting this park, what did they do to deserve such treatment?
Nelson Capote is a Miami-Dade resident.