By: David Walsh
Miami-Dade County’s Parks Department wants to turn a pristine, wild preserve into a developed park with a boardwalk carving through a tropical hardwood hammock. The development would cost taxpayers $5 million, and would put one of the world’s rarest ecosystems at risk. Why? To close a gate.
West Matheson Hammock park contains one of the few tropical hardwood hammocks that survived the South Florida real estate boom. Tropical hardwood hammocks are shady, biologically diverse forests that form on limestone ridges above sea level. They exist in the part of the Everglades south of Miami and nowhere else in the world. Countless endangered plants and animals call them home.
The county has been trying to develop West Matheson for years. That should be no surprise: the 98-acre plot is surrounded on all sides by multi-million dollar homes.
Last August, the city announced a revamped plan in response to complaints from residents of Hammock Lakes, an affluent neighborhood that borders the park. Emails retrieved thanks to Florida sunshine laws detail their lobbying efforts. Members of the homeowners’ association complained that the park’s north gate, accessible only through the public roads in their neighborhood, created traffic. They were probably right: the north gate is the only entrance for mobility-impaired parkgoers. As long as the north gate is open, cars will drive through Hammock Lakes.
Keeping traffic out is not a new goal for the neighborhood. In 2016, the homeowners’ association had a guardhouse built along the road to the park. In an interview with CBS Miami, the Chair of the association acknowledged the roads are public, but said his hope was to deter would-be park visitors to keep his neighborhood quiet. Now, Hammock Lakes wants the north gate shut for good.
So far, they’re getting what they want. The county’s plan is to build an ADA-compliant boardwalk that will carve straight through the hardwood hammock. The boardwalk project would necessarily involve drawn-out construction and significant cutting in the forest. Once the boardwalk is complete, they can shut the north gate for good. But at what cost?
The County must reconsider the boardwalk project and the development plan as a whole. There is no good reason to alter West Matheson Hammock Park to any significant extent. It’s an awful waste of 5 million taxpayer dollars, and would put at risk one of the only tropical hardwood hammocks left in Miami-Dade County. West Matheson Hammock Park is a wild, beautiful place, and it must be prioritized over the interests of its human neighbors.