OPINION: West Matheson Hammock Park

By: Nelson Capote

Maintain Safe Access to West Matheson Hammock Park for Everyone!

Rarely does a large group of citizens beg the local authorities not to spend $5 million on a project, yet here is a petition doing exactly that. It concerns West Matheson Hammock Park, a lovely, unspoilt delight of nature that lies within the boundaries of Coral Gables.

Since the elections, the new Mayor of Miami-Dade, the new Commissioner of District 7 and the Director of Miami-Dade Parks Department have not responded to any of the questions and concerns sent to them regarding the ongoing project in the park. A formal request for information has been ignored and it has proved necessary to file a lawsuit just to see public documents relating to their planned changes to the park access. Communication has been limited to a notice board at the park entrance that is riddled with contradictions.

There are the many handicapped and elderly park visitors who currently drive safely into the park every day via the north gate. When the Parks Department’s project is complete they will instead have to walk two thirds of a mile on a shaded, elevated boardwalk without handrails and covered in wet leaves. Oh yeah, they will have to watch out for happy dogs and speeding bicycles too. The project is setting the general public up for years of life changing accidents and personal injury claims. It is an absolute mockery of the American Disabilities Act and their proposed mitigation of providing dawn until dusk golf cart taxi services, is that a joke?

The rare rockland hammock that the boardwalk will be built on is classified as Environmentally Endangered Land yet no Environmental Impact Assessment has been carried out. Last year a Miami-Dade environmental specialist wrote an email about the damage that the Parks Department surveyors had caused to the rare plant life along the nature trail, and they were only wielding theodolites and tripods. If the heavy construction machinery is allowed to start work, that old Florida birding trail will never be the same again.

The Parks Department try to portray their project as a positive thing being done in the public’s interest. Unfortunately the only “public” that will benefit are the twelve Hammock Lakes families living on the public road leading to the park. The Hammock Lakes Home Owner’s Association seized on the opportunity of the pandemic and the resulting park closures to lobby the local commissioner and mayor, requesting that the access gate into the oldest park in Miami-Dade be kept closed. They would like to stop all non-resident cars from entering into their semi-gated community. Coral Gables has also kindly installed “no parking” signs on all the public swale around the entrance gate to keep those pesky park goers away. This despite a supposed Coral Gables moratorium on such signage since 2016, I guess it helps to be connected.

The petition proposes an equitable solution that allows the elderly and handicapped safe access to the park and completely eliminates the need for the environmentally damaging boardwalk. Please sign it so that this lovely park can be enjoyed by all and preserved, beautiful and unspoiled, for future generations.

Oh, one other thing. If you have any better ideas of what to do with the spare $5 million please let the Mayor of Miami-Dade know, they are in a hurry to spend it!

Nelson Capote

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22 thoughts on “OPINION: West Matheson Hammock Park

  1. The rustling of trees, wild flowers, butterflies, a Great-horned owl and her baby… These were some of nature’s wonders that I experienced this morning walking along the Matheson Birding Trail… along with joggers, people strolling with their children, dog walkers and a nice park attendant who stopped to admire the owls with me. I don’t see a necessity for a boardwalk. It is better to leave the trail as it is, so one can feel the earth underfoot.

  2. Gables Grump – Hopefully at the upcoming Coral Gables elections the voters will remember Vince Lago stepping up to help his rich homie Ogden in his personal vendetta against the general public who visit West Matheson Hammock Park.

    Please share how this moratorium of no more “No Parking” signs got approved? It may be time to dig into Lago’s campaign donations, or was it illegal lobbying?

  3. Elected officials are supposed to listen and support ALL of their constituents, not just a select few. Just from this comment feed it is obvious that the vast majority don’t want the boardwalk or restricted access. Sorry area homeowners but you knew about the park before you moved in. It needs to stay the way it is. The boardwalk is an incredible waste of money. If you have ever walked down that path you will see how quickly the detritus will build up on the planks and make it extremely slippery and dangerous, either requiring vast sums of money to maintain as well as build, or it will become unusable. Especially now, in these economic times, it makes no sense to wastefully spend 5M, that could help so many other people. Shame on the group of individuals and politicians trying to slide this through. The vast majority of voters opposing this will not forget this come next election cycle. DO THE RIGHT THING AND DROP THIS NOW.

  4. My husband and I (and Lily our dog) have been going to this park daily for over 4 years. After having extensive surgery my husband used the walking as additional physical therapy. We do drive just inside because he still has a slight handicap. This was the most amazing park in so Florida. NOW there are bulldozers ripping out whole areas of brush including wild berries and papaya (about 30 papayas) Gone are the birdwatchers. Why? Please help us keep one of the last wild places in so Florida.

  5. I have been using (and loving) the park since 1961. No matter how the revisionists are trying to spin it, the main entrance (by use) has always been the north entrance. The secondary entrances have always been from the east and the west. The nature trail should not be destroyed with the boardwalk and the gravel road was far more nature friendly before they bulldozed the wider road years ago, destroying a lot of the surrounding hammock. This park has long been one of the precious gems of our county and was there and used and enjoyed by our residents long before the 12 families who have been pushing to restrict access. I frequently bike through the park and we walk our dogs in the park and I prefer it to remain as it is.

  6. I don’t think driving all the way into the park is really a NECESSITY, and, frankly, the cars all over the access road through the middle of the park kind of detracts from the whole being in nature thing. That being said, I surely don’t care about the complaints of the 12 rich families that don’t want the public driving through their neighborhood.

    My vote is to ditch the boardwalk idea, leave the access gate open but don’t let cars drive all the way into the park and build a parking lot on the north side there (along with gated dog park). Appreciate that the park is the “unofficial” let your dog run wild park, but for park goers not using the park for this purpose it causes apprehension at best, and legitimate danger at worst (sorry for those whose dogs are actually well behaved but all are not and I have been approached and chased by strange dogs more times than I can count).

  7. Very upsetting news that the city wants to change this rare, beautiful piece of public property. I grew up playing here as a child and have been a regular ever since for 47 years. Not a great move environmentally. Unfortunately, we all know how Miami politics work. Hoping this doesn’t come to fruition.

  8. Get over it whiners. Use the official entrance to Matheson West on Old Cutler Road and stop trying to get in through a Coral Gables neighborhood. There is only one official entrance to Matheson West and it is from the county parking lot on Old Cutler Road. From there you have a choice of walking down a gravel road into the park or choosing a nature trail through one the last remaining hardwood hammocks accessible by the public in Miami-Dade County. The county is proposing to build a handicap accessible boardwalk (like the ones in Everglades National Park) for those who need it or would rather use it than the gravel road or one of the nature trails.
    Stop trying to access the park from the residential neighborhood of Hammock Lakes, go instead to the official entrance on Old Cutler Road.

  9. Sadly this is a very Miami story – the politicians using $5 million of the public’s money to do favours for their rich friends, and the general public can go hang. Given their stonewalling, it seems that there is little hope of things getting better with the new Mayor of Miami-Dade and District 7 Commissioner.

    Hopefully at the upcoming Coral Gables elections the voters will remember Vince Lago stepping up to help his rich homie Ogden in his personal vendetta against the general public who visit West Matheson Hammock Park.

  10. Those with money and strong political influence get their way and what suits them. Same old, same old story. It is really an outrage. The residents have waged a war on the public for many many years to prohibit access, and now they have found a camouflaged means to their end. The commissioners should be ashamed to be so blatantly bought!

  11. Thank you community for stepping out for one of the few places left of wilderness, dog lovers, free cyclists a friendly strangers. I’ll do my best to share the petition.
    Miami is in need of new infrastructures but this place is one of the few gems here.
    Francesca Mondello

  12. Perfectly stated article!!
    This situation is appalling. Those signs that they have put up state there were two public meetings…. after months of delays, the agenda notes were sent to us.. (of only one meeting)interesting how 99% of public comments stated to leave park alone and leave north entrance open. Guess these comments were completely ignored!!! Shame on those politicians involved…
    Even if that boardwalk ( which will destroy the natural habitat ) is built , it will rapidly accumulate algae with leaves which will bring many many lawsuits from falls, slips etc.
    The park should be left as is in its natural state for everyone to enjoy … not closed off to be used by only a handful of Hammock Lakes residents….shame on those that have looked the other way and let this pass!!

  13. Dear Gables Retard,
    Would you possibly please remove “retard” from your name as it is very disrespectful to many people with disabilities. Second Lago has been the most supportive politician we have had in all the time I have been in Coral Gables. He is responsive, answers his emails and listens to the people. Stating he is one of the boys and a homie is totally incorrect and not acceptable. If you think Keon would be a better Mayor then you do have a thought process disability. Keon only supports what she thinks is right, is not very nice or liked within City Hall by the employees and does not support what the majority of the residents want. She wants development / changes and does not care what collateral damage she does to get it. You really have a shameful name and use shameful descriptions of people who support the City with the upmost integrity.

  14. The lack of communication from our elected officials is very telling. Their lack of responses to hundreds of calls and emails speaks volumes that they do not give a hoot what the citizens want. The Parks department lies daily with their utter nonsense. There are special groups that are allowed to drive on the road going into the park, whereas others are not. The orchid growers have full access and when we asked Parks, they said no one uses it as it’s abandoned. The growers are there every weekend. Shame on Coral Gables for telling us there is a moratorium on No Parking Signs in the Gables. However, this HOA got them put in with no public input. We do not want a $5 million dollar boardwalk for .3 of a mile. This is a waste of our taxpayer dollars and our county officials do not want to hear what we the taxpayers have to say. Shame on all of these elected officials!

  15. Mayor Cava, Commissioner Regalado and Park officials have gone MIA. Just posted new signs around the park with a lot of inaccuracies (with falsehoods is how they inform the people?), but no public hearing. When and how does the a .30 of a mile boardwalk came to being a necessity for the park goers? Who approved such an obscene big amount ($5M) in this time of economic shortfall for the County? I bet there are other areas that are in need for this funds, but makes you wonder why are they pushing it so hard. It is a disgrace.

  16. What part of “we do not want a boardwalk” do you not understand. First, you were warned about the hypocrisy of the new Mayor Cava. She spoke to get elected, and now has turned into everything we voted against initially. Shame on you for being such a liar. Remember this at vote time. Second a small group of wealthy entitled residents should not be the reason thousands of people are forced to have limited access to the area. This is just appalling. I have lived here 28 years and never dreamed this area would disregard the environment and area visitors. Third, if it is built is will just be torn down as it is not for the disabled or the environment. We will make sure of that using the legal system. 5 millions dollars is a ton of money that can be used to support our needy City. Cava, do what you promised and answer us, help us and cancel this ridiculous project.

  17. The epitome of corruption and local government waste. Politicians who ignore the pleas of the public at the behest of the rich few and well connected. This disgusting reality transcends political party lines. Even the new County Mayor Daniella and new District 7 Commissioner Regalado, who ran on promises to listen, are completely ignoring he hundreds of emails and phone calls. We are begging you not to spend the 5 million dollars to ruin the people’s park.

  18. To The Gables re***: what an ugly alias to hide behind.

    Do you even try? Vince Lago is the most accessible politician in town. The less connected you are, the more he fights for you.

    Why is it exactly you don’t want the signs in “OUR” neighborhood? We all want them here.

  19. My kids and I love walking up the nature trail from Old Cutler and we enjoy the open space once in the heart of the park. For 10+ years, the park has been my happy place to get a taste of nature without having to get in the car and drive an hour. I am so saddened that the trails and forest on the Old Cutler side of the park will be destroyed to make room for a boardwalk, and that the wide open spaces at the top will be ruined by the fencing for the dog enclosure. This park is a true gem. So many of us enjoy the park for different reasons – nature enthusiasts, bird watchers, dog owners, runners, bikers, etc., and I don’t see how these proposed “improvements” make the park better for any of us.

  20. It certainly does help to be connected. Lago told staff to install the signs in our neighborhood. He and Bill Ogden are boys, homies, chums.

  21. Wonderful article! Perfectly sums up the ridiculous three-way fight between a large number of park goers, a small number of wealthy residents, and a corrupt government. I’ve been going to this park for three years and it is the gem of peaceful nature that can’t be found anywhere else in the city. The park fostered a large community of respectful regulars who use the park for birdwatching, family outings, and a rare safe place for dogs to play under supervision. The park is more important than ever during the pandemic, and the community feels extremely let down by their government.

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