Opinion: Keep West Matheson Natural, Pristine

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.

To take action, please call and email your county commissioners (find their contact information here) and sign this petition.


23 thoughts on “Opinion: Keep West Matheson Natural, Pristine

  1. Fyi, the city of south Miami is doing this same garbage at Fuchs Park US1 and 80th street. Removal of 85% of the trees and a beautiful established tree canopy for a 0.2 mile bike path to nowhere. Removal of live 30-40 foot live oaks and sable palms. Seems like the only green that matters has a president’s face on it.

  2. This peaceful, pristine and undisrupted natural green space is a haven and delight to so many citizens. I jog through it, ride my bike through it, meet friends and walk through it, take my dog and let him socialize with his doggy buddies. I have enjoyed over the years getting to know the “regulars” and meeting new people discovering it for the first time. When I bring a person for the first time to join me for a nature walk along the many paths, they are astounded at how they feel they are out in the country. Miami’s busy streets and hectic life dissolve away when one walks through this gem of a park. Thank you to Vince Lago (you have my vote) and Friends of West Matheson Hammock Park for trying to protect this precious land. Shame on the self serving Hammock Lakes HOA and Mayor Cava (regretfully I voted for you) for their calculated, devious attempt to ruin the beauty of this public park during these stressful Covid times.

  3. The park is actually a nature preserve, which should not be disrupted or disturbed in any way. Safe places for wildlife are becoming more and more rare . There should never be any construction activity such as a boardwalk . The case against the boardwalk has been made by the previous commenters. The Hardy Matheson Nature Preserve should be formally designated as a Wildlife Sanctuary with an ironclad,strict ordiinance forbidding any and all construction projects. Please continue to circulate this news letter.
    We defeated the promotion of a large boathouse storage facility for Matheson Hammock years ago. There were thousands of protesters.
    I thank Vince Lago for his support in this matter. He deserves to become the next Mayor of Coral Gables since he is the only elected official on that Commission who is willing to stand up to deep pockets and protect what little is left of the precious natural environment.
    Mayor Cava ran as an environmentally conscious candidate. This is why I supported her. I will reach out to her. Everyone, please don’t give up. We need to persist in our efforts to communicate with Mayor Cava. Commissioner Regalato should also be held accountable to her constituents.

  4. The people in charge of protecting our parks (Maria Nardi) are the same ones trying to destroy it with an ill-conceived boardwalk. There are nesting birds that are being displaced do the the heavy machinery are already doing damage. Take a look at the FB page with the owl and 3 little babies. It seems the voters made a huge mistake with Regalado and Cava. I see history repeating itself. When Regalado was on the school board she made a shady deal with Key Biscayne to get MAST to become KB’s school. Deal was done on the last day of school with no notice to the parents. She refused to speak to any parent, same as now – refusing to speak to any of us after the election. Hopefully, they will serve one time and leave.

  5. This truly breaks my heart. There is no respect for the environment or for people who like to spend time in nature for optimal well-being.

  6. We told you not to elect Cava. The fact that she has ignored this whole topic, refuses to answer to the residents of Dade County, shows what a mistake you made. Cava cares for no one who can not do something for her. She is a selfish self serving politician. Think about this lafk of support Mayor in the next election. She is horrible and Regalado has lied to us. His indifference to our needs speak for itself. They only care about the Benjamins and what entitled donors will support them.

  7. This is the second attempt to destroy the beautiful natural area of Matheson Hammock. They came very close to building a huge boat storage warehouse there. The citizens stopped it. We can stop this too, even if we have to lay in front of the bulldozers. The politicians in Miami Dade and Coral Gables ( except for Vince Lago) are all just lip service on the green issues. I also voted for Levine Cava. Not again if she does not stop this lunacy.

  8. Please leave this wonderland pristine small park as is! I love walking there with a friend and enjoy the idyllic wonder to be in Coral Gables/Miami and yet it feels so far away.
    I beg not to change a thing!

  9. Clint Moylan, I love your idea!! About the only thing that could make this wonderful park better is a nice big lake or two! 🤣🤣

  10. The county should emminent domain the homes in Hammock Lakes and bulldoze them to expand the park so they can open up the two lakes to add to the park for all the citizens of the county to enjoy. That would be true social justice and enlightenment for the good of the majority. It’s more democratic than closing it up for just a few entitled people.

  11. How disgusting, transparent, and infuriating to have a handful of entitled Hammock Lake property owners devise a way to create obstacles so as to discourage use of the park. So many love and rely on the park as a place of refuge where one can feel alone with nature or stroll, undisturbed, through the woods on unmanicured dirt paths. It is the the very fact that it has remained untouched that makes West Matheson special. Leave it alone! A boardwalk that is .3 miles long costs 5 million dollars? Hammock Lake HOA already managed to build a guard house on a public road for the purpose of intimidating and discouraging visitors. Score for them, It worked! But that is not enough, apparently. I have been coming to this lovely untouched haven for 25 years and I know I speak for many others, who enjoy the natural beauty of this very special space, when I say it is special because it is untouched. The last thing it needs is a boardwalk disrupting the wildlife habitat and the very thing that makes it special. If it is true that a petition with 3,600 signatures have been ignored by Mayor Cava Levine, I am deeply disappointed and regret having voted for her. I hope she will prove me wrong and stand up for the environment and park lovers, not the “generous donors.”

  12. This portion of Matheson Hammock is beautiful and rare because it’s undeveloped and untouched. The Parks Dept. plans on spending $5,000,000.00 in order to “improve” and develop it. At the same time making it harder to visit. This money is needed elsewhere in our community.

    The new Mayor, Daniella fails to reply and ignores our voice. The new commissioner Regalado fails to reply to our emails and phone calls. The Park’s director Maria Nardi is too busy to leven acknowledge thousands of us. The City of Coral Gables installs No Parking signs (against its own existing policy) to keep people away. What is going on here? I hate to think that half a dozen multimillionaire neighbors with connections have this much power over our elected officials. Isn’t one of the neighbors a developer himself? Are ulterior motives effectively keeping us away from a 90 year old public park and the public streets in a neighborhood? Instead, we need our government to work for us. The many and the people.

    The gate should be left open for everyone. Especially the elderly, the recovering and the handicapped. Do NOT spend money to “improve” the rare gift that nature has given us. Leave nature’s gift alone. Fix something that needs to be fixed instead.

  13. a shame to hear this,, i always enjoyed that forest. there are still hardwood hammocks in the everglades if you have a canoe..

  14. West Matheson Hammock Park is a huge area, so it is easy to get exercise while maintaining a safe distance from other park users. How am I supposed to keep people at a safe distance from me if everyone has to go into the park on single boardwalk? I don’t want the joggers and cyclists coming that close to me! Have the Parks Department not noticed that the medical advice is to social distance, they are being very irresponsible.

  15. It is not right to pay 5 million for a project to benefit wealthy homeowners to keep traffic out . How much traffic is generated by occasional bird watchers and dog walkers?

  16. It’s blatantly obvious to anybody who knows the park that this is an ill-conceived and disingenuous plan designed to satisfy a small group of homeowners who knowingly bought homes next to one of the oldest parks in the county yet don’t want to see people going into the park. If the “removal of invasive species” that we’ve seen at the park the past few days requires a backhoe loader, then it’s safe to say that the construction of a boardwalk through the hardwood hammock will cause irreparable damage to this endangered and irreplaceable habitat, while making the park no more accessible to those with mobility limitations. For me and my family, the best part of the park is the woods on the Old Cutler side. We walk in the woods regularly and it saddens me to know that this trail and the surrounding habitat will be destroyed. It enrages me that our elected officials, both past and present, have aligned themselves with a few litigious yet generous campaign donors when the overwhelming majority of the community wants the park just as it is. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – especially not to the tune of $5 million during a time of unprecedented need in our community.

  17. This park is a treasure and the Hammock Lake HOA should be ashamed of themselves. Shutting down the North entrance is criminal. This is and has always been a public road. The owners of the homes knew this when they purchased their homes. The parks department has joined in on this sham under the auspices of COVID precautions. It’s absurd that the only entrance to this park is through a wooded trail of several hundred yards which sometimes is mosquito infested due to standing water. We need access to this park more than ever in these restricted COVID times. Shame, shame shame

  18. Well said David Walsh! Calling this project ADA compliant is just paying lip service to the requirements of the act. If the Parks Department are allowed to close the Schoolhouse Road gate into West Matheson Hammock Park to vehicles with handicapped badges, there are many daily users of the park who will never be able to go there again. They are mobility impaired, how can they be expected to walk 2/3rds of a mile on top of their current gentle stroll on the paved roads within the park?

    The Hammock Lake HOA lobbyists should be ashamed of their rampant incivility, and Maria Nardi the Director of Miami-Dade Parks Department should remember that she is paid by the general public to look after their county parks, not to deface them and make them inaccessible.

    This is a unique, beautiful, unspoilt piece of nature. Stop the environmental vandalism and leave the park as it is for future generations to enjoy.

  19. Due to the constant lobbying of the HOA, specifically Bill Ogden, is putting this natural resource and Miami’s first park in jeopardy for their own financial gain. All of this, plus the documents, emails and such are coming to light and reflect that this is an ill conceived project to spend $5 million in a wealthy neighborhood. There has to be other MDC Parks that are in need restoration and equipment, as opposed to a boardwalk that is .3 of a mile. They already have a back hoe tearing up trees that the birds have nests in. There is a petition with over 3,600 signatures and none of our elected officials have replied to hundreds of letters and emails. So much for taxation, without representation in in MDC. Mayor Cava Levine, I voted for you because of you wanting to help the environment. Your inaction, along with Rachel Regalado is appalling, at best.

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