Location: Homestead, Florida
Webpage: National Park
General Description: Although Biscayne National Park covers nearly 173,000 acres, over 95% of the park is covered by water in Biscayne Bay. The primary purpose of the Park is to preserve the waters of the Bay, the barrier islands, and the reefs. The park includes Elliott Key, the largest barrier island in the park, which is the northern most of the true Florida Keys formed from fossilized coral reefs instead of the sand barrier islands further north. The bay waters harbor immature and adult fish, seagrass beds, sponges, soft corals, and manatees. The history of the Bay begins with the Tequesta Indians that inhabited the region until the 16th century when the Spanish took possession of Florida. Being along the route taken by Spanish treasure ships for two hundred years, there are many wrecks of ships caused by the reefs and have continued to claim ships into the 20th century. While being an important anchorage for the Spanish, the frequent tropical storms and poor soils made permanent establishments of colonies difficult. In the early 20th century the islands became secluded destinations for wealthy Miami residents with getaway homes and social clubs. Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Elliott Key was used as a training grounds for infiltrators into Cuba and the CIA. As Miami continued to grow, these barrier islands were viewed as prime real estate property. Beginning in the 1890s developers proposed the construction of a causeway going south out of Miami. Many proposals for causeways have been tried in the past, the latest in 1960 when the residents of Elliott Key incorporated the city of Islandia. In 1962 an industrial seaport was proposed, called SeaDade, which would have included an oil refinery and the dredging of a 40 foot deep channel through the Bay. In 1968, the citizens of Islandia bulldozed a 6-lane highway through the center of the island destroying 7 miles of forests, hoping this would stop interest in making it a national monument since there was now so much ecological damage. This struggle between environmental interests in creating a national monument and the real estate development only heated up when it was determined that the Turkey Point power stations completed in 1967-68 was significantly warming the waters of the Bay, which was used for cooling, and killing the native wildlife and coral reefs. Although initial proposed as a part of Everglades National Park, the Biscayne National Monument was created in 1968. The monument was expanded in 1974 and again in 1980 when it became a National Park. Hurricane Andrew significantly impacted the park since Biscayne Bay was where landfall occurred. All of the structures in the park, including all but the lighthouse on Elliott Key were destroyed and the Park was closed for two years. Today, the Park is still recovering from all the environmental impacts, including Hurricane Andrew and still faces significant challenges from continued population growth in Miami to the north and Homestead to the west.
1) The Visitor Center is new since Hurricane Andrew and is a very nice structure built high above the storm surge. It has a number of exhibits about the wildlife in the bay and reefs.
2) The is a short 1/2 mile walk along a boardwalk that goes out a little way into the Bay and along a spit of land.
3) Without a boat, there is very little you can see or do in Biscayne National Park. When we were there, they were in the process of contracting a new Concessionaire to provide boat access to the keys, so we could not even travel over to the barrier islands. This is unfortunate, as seeing a coral reef island would have been interesting. There is only so much you can see from the shore