A new trail in Florida will link two U.S. national parks

View of the lighthouse at Biscayne National Park – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by nyker

Only 20 miles of road separate the huge inland swamp of Everglades National Park from the coastal sanctuary of Biscayne National Park on Florida’s east coast, but up until now, traveling between nature reserves required a car or–for bicyclists and pedestrians–the guts to avoid oncoming traffic or cross the street.

On March 11, the first five miles of the 42-mile Biscayne-Everglades Greenway, a path for biking, walking, and equestrian use, will open. The loop, when finished, will be the first green route connecting two national parks in the United States.

The completed path will offer safety from Miami-Dade County’s infamously unpredictable cars to walkers and bicycles. In 2022, there were roughly 2,500 car accidents in the area involving bicycles or pedestrians.

Less than an hour south of Miami’s expanding cityscape, the greenway will offer nature enthusiasts a peaceful link between these two complementing but distinctly different parks. “It’s amazing to get off the road and get closer to our natural environment,” says José Francisco Barros, president of the Miami-based Tropical Audubon Society. “You see birds like egrets, herons, and kingfishers along with gators.”

What it took to complete such a challenging project in this car-obsessed state, and what users will find in both parks—and along the way—are described here.

From reefs to gators

Each year, about 1.7 million visitors travel to Biscayne and the Everglades, attracted by both the lush surroundings and the diverse creatures and plants. “You have sea turtles and manatees—it’s an interesting melting pot of tropical, subtropical, and temperate species,” says Steve Davis, chief science officer for the Everglades Foundation. “It’s the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators coexist.”

The majority of Biscayne Bay, which spans 270 square miles, is under Biscayne National Park. The park’s coral reefs, historical route of six ancient shipwrecks, and shallow, tranquil waters draw snorkelers, boaters, kayaks, and paddle boarders. The park’s western end features a 1.5-mile wooden boardwalk that leads up to mangrove trees, which is great for birdwatchers and people on foot.

The 1.5 million-acre Everglades National Park spans two counties, has three entrances, and has about 10,000 islands. Alligators, endangered butterflies, West Indian manatees, and wading birds all find refuge in the tall grasses, mangroves, and hammocks. Visitors can paddle through mangroves and stroll along pathways that skirt the marsh. An anhinga drying its wings out or an alligator taking a sleep in the sun might be seen.

Old Florida

The Biscayne-Everglades Greenway was created as a result of efforts to revive south Miami-Dade County after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 devastated buildings and uprooted trees there. Over the ensuing decades, elected authorities and pro-cycling citizens pushed the project through city, county, state, and federal agencies.

“We’re fortunate that the city of Homestead sits in between two national parks,” says Miami-Dade Vice Mayor Julio Guzman. In the winter, the city also runs a free weekend trolley between the parks.

East of Homestead’s central business district is where the greenway’s first five miles begin. Fresh asphalt borders a man-made canal, nurseries with palm trees, and vegetable farms before vanishing behind suburban homes and into the city’s historic center. Its attractions seem a million miles apart from opulent Miami neighborhoods like Wynwood and South Beach. Instead, the Pioneer Florida Museum presents living history presentations in preserved structures, and Mexican eateries run by formerly employed agricultural laborers are located in century-old shops.

The Coral Castle Museum is 20 blocks from the greenway’s future location in downtown Homestead. In order to pay homage to the woman who dumped him, Edward Leedskalnin carved 1,100 tons of limestone into thrones, walls, and other odd shapes between 1923 and 1951, resulting in the half-acre sculpture park. This is where the 1958 film ‘The Wild Women of Wongo’ was made, and Billy Idol composed a song about it.

Moving forward

The entire trail is expected to cost $50 million, and its completion could take several more years. This money will come from various government grants. It is a component of the 2,400 square mile Miami-Dade County’s ambitious ambition to add 500 miles of greenways.

For the time being, bikers can construct their own route between the parks via a difficult, tire-damaging access path made of shale that runs alongside a canal from Biscayne Bay National Park to Homestead. There are still only open streets for bicycles and walkways for pedestrians from Homestead to the Everglades.

“During the pandemic, many residents took advantage of reduced traffic and rediscovered their interest in outdoor activities,” says Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. “The greenway offers people the opportunity to enjoy them in a safe and picturesque environment.”

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