Thursday, December 30, 2010

Last entry

The end of 2010 also marks the end of this year-long project to raise awareness about the unique, beautiful, and environmentally fragile island of Virginia Key, the 1,000-acre barrier island off the coast of the City of Miami.

This is the last entry in View from Virginia Key.

But this is not the last chapter in the history of the island. There are many more stories to be told, old and new. There is a wilderness within,  growing and evolving. There are many new places yet to be discovered and enjoyed.

Vigilance is still in order if the island is to continue to be ecologically restored and preserved for future generations to enjoy.

Even with a master plan approved by the City of Miami earlier this year, there is much uncertainty about the island’s future development or preservation.

Its wild spaces, scenic vistas and quiet places for reflection distinguish the island.  It is a place apart. And should remain so, free of the commercial clutter and cacophony of the bustling metropolis across Biscayne Bay.

And for those considering future "improvements,"  the eighteenth-century English poet Alexander Pope has this advice: “Consult the genius of the place in all.” The genius is in the water, the sky, the open spaces and that magic that happens among them.


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For information on upcoming events and news about Virginia Key, join “Friends of Virginia Key” on Facebook.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Volunteer in the New Year on Virginia Key

Volunteers have replanted native species throughout the island.
Resolved: in the new year to do something for nature on Virginia Key

Go ahead, make Virginia Key part of your New Year’s resolutions and join the community effort to protect and preserve one of our community’s natural jewels.

Here are  some of the volunteer organizations working to restore the natural environment on Virginia Key and throughout South Florida:

Urban Paradise Guild.
“Our mission is to re-create native habitats in the Urban areas of Miami-Dade County, and to promote sustainable models for healthy living that safeguard, enhance and integrate the human and natural worlds for the benefit of both.”

Tropical Audubon Society
“We believe in the wisdom of nature's design. We seek to foster and promote ecological conscientiousness in our community.”

Sierra Club, Miami Group
"Our mission is to enjoy and protect the natural places in South Florida, to teach others to understand and respect the fragile environment in which we live, and to practice and promote the responsible use of South Florida's ecosystems and resources."

Citizens for a Better South Florida
“Citizens is dedicated to providing environmental education, particularly to the under-served community, that inspires active stewardship and preservation of the South Florida environment.”

TREEmendous Miami
“TREEmendous Miami consists of a dedicated group of people who like to plant trees so that we can make Miami-Dade a greener, cooler, healthier and more enjoyable environment in which to live. Our environment is our number one concern.”

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Ten Things to Do on Virginia Key

For the tourist, transient and truly curious (willing to venture past the neighborhood mall), here are ten things to do on Virginia Key:

Eat. There are several restaurants, a few arepa/hot dog stands and a smoked fish joint: Rusty Pelican, the new Rickenbacker Fish Company, Bayside Hut, Jimbo’s and the  Hobie Beach stands. Or bring a picnic lunch. Best views are just about anywhere from the island out to aquamarine waters that surround it.

Sail. Hobie Beach has the rental boards. You’ll see the bright sails rustling in the sea breezes along the Rickenbacker Causeway. Or bring your own kayak, canoe, paddleboard. The water is crystal clear and teeming with fascinating critters.

Run/Walk. This is not just for the Brickell crowd. Park you car anywhere along the causeway parking lots and hike up the William Powell bridge (top of the Rickenbacker) and marvel at the Miami sky line to the north, the expanse of Biscayne Bay blue to the south. Particularly marvelous at sunset but inspiring anytime.

Hike. There’s an amazing Tropical Hammock to be discovered on Virginia Key and you don’t need a botany degree or birder’s eye to appreciate. Entrance off Virginia Key Beach (windsurfer’s beach across from the Miami-Dade South Water Treatment Facility - but don’t let that bother you from hiking).

Marvel.  At the icon of modern architecture, the Commodore Ralph Munroe Marine Stadium. It’s a sad mess right now but with lots of potential.

Amuse yourself. On the historic carousel and seaside train ride operating on weekends at the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park (entrance at the light across from University of Miami’s Rosensteil School just before the Bear Cut Bridge).

Fish. The fishing pier (old, closed bridge off the causeway) is open again. Can’t guarantee a catch but you might regain your serenity waiting for a bite.

Swim. OK it’s winter but if you’re from New York you won’t mind the surf temps.

Bird. As in check out the migrating songbirds in the hammock, shorebirds on the dunes.
Relax. It’s an island. A wilderness. A world away from that neighborhood mall.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tracking the Great Black Hawk on Bird Count Day

The elusive Virginia Key Great Black Hawk may be spotted again today at the annual National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. 
The Great Black-Hawk of Virginia Key was seen and reported during the 2004-5 Virginia Key Christmas Bird Count, according to Robin Diaz, who wrote an excellent article on the life and times of this soaring bird that she describes as a “large (hawk) with short broad wings, short tail and long legs. The adult is black, while the juvenile is streaky brownish” usually seen near coastal mangroves. 
The annual bird count has been held since 1900 all around the country and is being held today in Miami Dade County with volunteers coordinated by  Tropical Audubon Society. The results provide statistics that can be used to gauge changes in the environment and the effects on bird populations. 
The statistics are also a window to the environmental deterioration that pollution, loss of habitat and climate change has wrought. 
Virginia Key is rich in bird life, from the 700-acre Bill Sadowski Critical Wildlife Area to the tropical hammock and dunes.  
In March, Tropical Audubon volunteers working with representatives of the Florida Department of Environment Protection (DEP), to document the the birds that forage, roost, nest or even merely fly over the 700-acre wildlife area that includes submerged lands, two spoil islands, intertidal mudflats and bars and tidal swamp forests along Virginia Key’s northwest shoreline. That  part of Virginia Key contains the largest remaining portion of unaltered mangrove forest and unaltered, submerged lands. 
On that trip, ospreys, great blue herons, snowy egret, ibis, cormorants, anhingas and brown pelicans were among the many species found. A look was also taken underwater to document the health of the seagrasses - including Johnson’s seagrass (Halophila johnsonii), which the federal government lists as a threatened species.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter Solstice Drumming on Virginia Key

Catch the rhythms of the sea at the full  moon drum circle .
Celebrate the winter solstice on Virginia Key this weekend at the monthly drumming circle that takes places at the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park. 
There are two opportunities to join the “Full Moon” drumming circles - either as spectator or participant, all are welcome: 
Nighttime drumming:  Sat., Dec. 18 from 6  to 9 p.m.
Daytime drumming:  Sun., Dec. 19 from 2 p.m. to sundown.
This year the winter solstice is Dec. 21, which will also be marked by a lunar eclipse . Astronomically speaking, the winter solstice takes places exactly when the Earth tilts farthest away from the sun. Many cultures associate it with rebirth - the beginning of a new year.   
It is also tied to the earth and its ritual and rhythmic changes -- which makes drumming the right ritual for an island that is wild at heart, a refuge and natural garden on land and sea. 
As one participant put: “This is the place were connections with the natural world happen.”

If you go:  Drums and other acoustic instruments are welcome. Show your drums at the park entrance to get the park entrance ($5) waived. Directions: the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park entrance is just before the Bear Cut bridge heading south toward Key Biscayne. Turn left at the traffic light. More info: Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, 305-960-4600.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Virginia Key as a great civic space

On the road, in the buildings, and through the landscape, Virginia Key is a great civic space that has the potential to build community. 

But only if the community is not shut out.  
A  Virginia Key of great civic spaces is a place where public areas are protected - public shorelines among them.   It's still possible on an island that is publicly owned, filled with wild and open spaces,  and possessing an extraordinary public shoreline that is raw but beautiful in its simplicity.  

Virginia Key is also a place filled with  buildings of civic significance:  the historic Miami Marine Stadium, the Miami  Seaquarium, the science complex (University of Miami’s Rosensteil School and the various NOAA buildings), and the segregation-era buildings  of the Historic Virginia Key Beach. 
And there’s the road in -- the Rickenbacker Causeway -- designed as public parkway by landscape architect William Lyman Phillips in the 1940‘s. 
Restoring these civic buildings and spaces would go a long way to restoring a sense of place in a city that is apparently short of civic “centeredness” by design.  
“In this city, we don’t have a lot of public infrastructure,” architect Allan Shulman said Tuesday at a presentation on Miami Architecture, a new guidebook he co-authored with Randall Robinson, a landscape architect and James Donnelly, a historian. 

The book not only documents buildings of architectural significance but also places them in context.

Robinson, writing on the city’s history, describes how Miami sprouted into existence like a Wild West “gold rush” town, “with little regard for the creation of civic spaces.”

That can be remedied by making Virginia Key the new civic center, a place everyone feels they have a stake in protecting and preserving because it is kept in public hands, not parceled off to private development.

Photo: courtesy of University of Miami archives

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Port of Virginia Key?

Map of North Point of Virginia Key under review. In the past, the land was used as a deposit site for bay bottom materials produced by channel dredging operations of the Port of Miami.  

The North Point of Virginia Key, where bicyclists want to create a mountain bike trail, and which has been closed to the public for years, was once slated to be a new airport or port facility.  
The City of Miami purchased the land from the State of Florida in 1942. The deed states that “the lands are to be used by the City of Miami for the purposes of harbors and airport constructions and development.” 

It also had this proviso: should the area be used for any purpose other than harbor or airport construction, the state would automatically get the land back. 

Of course, the City is no longer in the business of running airports or ports. In 1945, the City of Miami transferred to Miami Dade County the ownership and operation of the airport; the operation of the seaport was conveyed in 1960. 

Today the North Point is considered an environmental gem, though parts of it must still undergo significant ecological restoration.  Most of the North Point, which is next to the state-designated Bill Sadowski Critical Wildlife Area, is  zoned conservation under Miami 21, the City's new zoning code. 

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