City's Plan to Kill Virginia Key's Pine Trees Could Ruin Trails, Cyclists Say

Categories: Environmental

photo by Ebyabe via Wikimedia Commons
Five years ago, the only athletic activity on Virginia Key was getting buzzed at Jimbo's and bowling bocci balls with the beach bums. Ever since the island's 82-acre park reopened in 2008, however, Miami cyclists have turned the mounds of dredge detritus into a mountain biker's Mecca. Miles of trails now wind their way through the trees. The park recently hosted it's first triathlon.

But the same conservation policies that have saved the park are now threatening to kill its buzz. Bikers worry that the City of Miami's plan to cut down invasive Australian pines could leave the island denuded and devoid of shady trails.

"We are totally in favor of restoration," says Miriam Merino, a real estate agent who has been kayaking and biking on the key since 1983. "But with so many areas already deforested, why do they want to deforest another one right just when it's becoming popular?"

But city officials say the plan will help the island's ecology in the long run, and that critics are overstating the deforestation's effects.

"Some of the bikers are not too happy about things, but North Point will be better for them in the long run," says Gary Milano, a former DERM official who is now consulting on the park project.

Evolution has never come easily on Virginia Key. The island's history has more twists and turns than its mazy mangrove patches. It was born when a hurricane carved it from a larger island in the mid 1800s. The key later became a refuge for black Miamians cruelly banned from other beaches by segregation. And when the city shuttered the park in 1982, the island filled up with druggies, trash dumps, and Port of Miami dredge waste.

When the park reopened in 2008, conservationists claimed victory. But progress has been start-and-stop ever since. Months of community meetings culminated in an ambitious master plan, which city commissioners approved in 2010. Barely a year later, however, French construction company Bouygues dumped fill from the port tunnel onto the island's sensitive wetlands. Forty protected mangroves were killed when a piece of equipment got entangled in their roots.

Meanwhile, mountain bikers were busy transforming the key in more positive ways. With the city's permission, the Virginia Key Bicycle Club (VKBC) built miles of trails beneath the shady Australian pines.

Last month, however, city officials told bikers that they finally had enough funds to begin removing the invasive trees. Merino felt betrayed. She admits that the master plan calls for replacing exotic species with native ones, but points to ugly clearings on the island where the city removed plants but didn't replace them.

courtesy Miriam Merino
Merino says the tress being removed in the green area will leave Virginia Key's sewage treatment plant open to the sea and to nearby trails.
"What the city has done in the past has been like shaving a lit bit of your hair here and there, without letting it grow back in. All of a sudden your head is full of holes," she says. "What we want is for the city to use the money to replant what has been removed already in the past and not to leave barren more land."

Merino worries that chopping down the pines will ruin trails and kill the key's burgeoning mountain biking movement. "Other bikers don't want to complain because they are afraid that they will lose the trails altogether," she says. "They are totally scared to speak."

Tom Siddons, president of VKBC, says the issue has split bikers. "If you spoke to ten different group members, you'd probably get 10 different views on it," he says. "So we're remaining neutral as a group."

But Milano says critics can't see the forest for the trees.

"Yes, there will be a momentary displacement of shade and tree life within this zone, but within a very short amount of time you have a very nice environment," he says. "Trust me. It really does work. It's not going to look like a bomb site."

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13 comments
friendsofthepines
friendsofthepines

Anyone who is concerned about the removal of Australian pines should go to www.australianpines.org and/or e-mail friendsofthepines@msn.com   -   Friends of the Pines

Nicolas Garcia
Nicolas Garcia

Efff it, less cyclists I gotta worry about not hitting. Those jerks have a whole lane to themselves and STILL choose to create traffic on the other side of the broken bridge (where the cars go)

Ariana Hernandez Reguant
Ariana Hernandez Reguant

I can imagine that they'll remove the invasive species and never get around to replanting indigenous ones... why dont they take care of the barren areas first?

misterraoul
misterraoul

Casuarinas are bad. If they cut them down, they must replant. It's that simple.

SethPlatt
SethPlatt topcommenter

Governments in Florida need to take aggressive actions against invasive flora on their lands that compete and dominate native species.

rafael_torrens
rafael_torrens

@Nicolas Garcia You drive inside the Mountain Bike Park?  I seriously doubt it.

floridaguy
floridaguy

@SethPlatt  They did this in my hometown of Melbourne.  The result?  The Pines grew back, no followup.  This is pointless, its on an island harming no one. 


rafael_torrens
rafael_torrens

@SethPlatt Those trees have been there for generations.  Truth is that eco-terrorists only care about Virgina Key now that actual humans have started using the park.  A park, BTW, that was lobbied for for more than 10 years to be used as a mountain bike park.  A park made and run by volunteers.  There are plenty of places where restoration can be made in Miami dade county.  Leave Virgina Key alone, please.

Id10T
Id10T

@SethPlatt   Agreed, as long as they replant after removal.  That does not always happen.

Shell7
Shell7

@floridaguy @SethPlatt They will be replanting the trees. They are not going to be plowing them all over, and then leaving it. There is a very systematic method to this process that everyone seems to miss. 

ecoguy32
ecoguy32

Due to Hurricane Andrew those trees have been there for about 20 years not generations, so find another argument

ecoguy32
ecoguy32

Alarmists need to look at the map, literally 45 seconds of a bike ride will be affected by the removal and replaced with improved sea turtle nesting habitat, so what's the problem?

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