Two of Miami’s most priceless gems have been placed on the chopping block: the Barnacle State Historic Park and the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve.
The Barnacle was built by Ralph Munroe in the 1880s (long before the City of Miami existed, and ancient by local standards). The Commodore was a Pioneer, and much more. He was a genius in Naval Architecture. Biscayne Bay’s shallow waters shaped his thinking, and he defied the deep-draft keel-boat conventions of his era to design and build over 60 shallow-draft sailboats. Most were Sharpies with swing-keels. He literally changed the way that sailboats boats are designed world-wide, including many popular designs we take for granted today. I had the honor to help build a replica of Munroe’s Flying Proa at the Barnacle. This 30′ outrigger sailing canoe was the first multi-hull known to have sailed our Bay. It was 100 years ahead of its time, and is on display at the Barnacle today!
The house is just as unique. It was designed to draw air up from the cool limestone foundation, through the house, and out the copula. He harnessed the “lift” created by the wind to create natural air conditioning… in the 1880s! The shape that made this possible looks just like a Barnacle, hence the name.
Finally there is the Hardwood Hammock, the last remnant in an area that has been paved and built into downtown Coconut Grove. Preserved by the Commodore and his family, who donated it to the State for safekeeping, it is Nature’s last bastion, providing irreplaceable habitat and food for wildlife. The pungent funkiness of Stoppers announces that it still survives to passers-by on Main Highway. The original, much-larger property has been carved up and developed, and only a fraction remains.
The Boathouse, House and Grounds are packed with examples of how this “Miami Original” was shaped by Miami, and as a result shaped the world. Don’t allow those who don’t value Miami’s history and ecosystems to exclude you and your kids from discovering genius, and growing from the experience.
Biscayne Bay has been under assault for over a century during Miami’s development. For many decades it was a cesspool, a dumping area for raw sewage. Channels slashed its bottom, bleeding sediments that are still killing habitats. Once, Mangrove estuaries made Miami’s fishing legendary, and the waters churned with life. Many people wrote that during seasonal bait runs “it looked like you could walk on the fish”. Visitors flocked to Miami for fishing and eco-tourism. Today, marine life is a pale shadow. Sterile sea-walls have no safe-havens to grow seafood, game-fish. They also keep the Bay waters murky, contributing to the death of the remaining sea-grass beds and hiding the wonders of nature from children. These conditions drive away tourist dollars.
The Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve (BBAP) was established to protect the remaining habitats, and even heal the damage caused by greed and carelessness. Away from busy channels the shallow grasses usually manage to filter sediments, keeping the waters as gin-clear as Mother Nature intended. Manatees and fish raise young, protected by the shallows from boat propellers. Wading birds come at low tide, marching in a line across the flats to feed on slow or careless crabs, fish and shrimp.
These the amazing sea-grass beds are among Miami’s least-known treasures. Most drivers on
Rickenbacker and Julia Tuttle Causeways are oblivious, but they would only have to look north from the bridges for a glimpse of Paradise.
The BBAP serves as guardian and educator for all of Biscayne Bay that is not part of the National Park.
I grew up on Biscayne Bay. I have caught fish, and learned to skin-dive, spearfish, sail and waterski there. I wandered grass-flats, and searched mangrove forests for native orchids. Over the years I have been surrounded by sleeping Manatees, schooling Cutlassfish and mating Dolphins. If you want your children to experience these things, do not allow the BBAP to die.
These are just two of the 53 State Parks and Preserves threatened with Closure by the Florida’s new Governor. The others are just as valuable as the Barnacle and the BBAP, but it is for those who know them best to speak for them. Miami and Florida have the habit of throwing forgotten treasures under the bulldozers of development. The first stage is “Demolition by Neglect”, which is provided as “proof” that the public doesn’t care about them. This justifies their later sale or destruction. Don’t let this happen.
Stand up for what belongs to YOU and your kids. Remind your legislator, the governor, and this newspaper that you care. Do nothing, and these places that belong to every Floridian may be lost forever.
Sam Van Leer
Executive Director & Founder
Urban Paradise Guild
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