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In South Florida, where the Everglades meet the bays, environmental challenges abound. Sea level rise threatens homes and real estate. Invasive species imperil native plants and animals. Pesticides reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases, but at what cost? WLRN's award-winning environment reporting strives to capture the color and complexity of human interaction with one of the most biodiverse areas of the planet.

Everglades Bike Path Is Not Final, But Protesters Want Planning To Stop

Jessica Meszaros

The River of Grass Greenway (ROGG) is a proposed 75-mile bike path that would connect Miami to Naples. The Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation Department is heading up the project with other partnerships.

About 30 protesters of ROGG walked along the path recently-- from County Road 92 in Collier County to the Miccosukee Resort and Casino in Miami-Dade County over the course of five days, walking about 15 miles each day. The proposal is still in its earliest stage, but local protesters want to stop it dead in its tracks.

"We organized this walk to bring people together for a common goal: to help protect this land," said Betty Osceola,  a member of the Miccosukee tribe.

She’s lived in the Everglades her whole life, and now her grandchildren live there. Osceola says as a kid, she would swim in the clear water canals of the Everglades-- canals that are now murky and too dangerous to swim in because alligators are harder to spot.

She says this proposed bike path concerns her because it could open the door to more development.

"The Everglades really needs to be afforded that chance to recuperate instead of keep having that mentality that we need to take from it, take from it, take from it," she says. 

Mark Heinicke of Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation is the ROGG project manager. He says the trail will be made of paved asphalt 12-to-14 feet wide within the shoulder of US Highway 41, and some parts may be on the levee parallel to Tamiami Trail. 

Heinicke says 90 percent of the project will take place on government-owned land.

Credit Jessica Meszaros / WLRN
Wetlands along Tamiami Trail

"There are other areas where we may fill wetlands, but we would try to make it as environmentally friendly as possible," he says. 

ROGG has been a conversation for about eight years. Heinicke says there are a lot of benefits to the proposed bike path.

"I think it would be a tremendous safety improvement, in particular, to areas like Shark Valley," he says. 

Shark Valley Visitors Center, off of US 41, has such a small parking area, people sometimes park in the state road’s right-of-way. Heinicke says it’s unsafe to be backing cars in and out, walking and riding bikes around the two-lane road. He thinks ROGG will alleviate some of those parking issues because people could just bike in.

"Regional trails are good for tourism, they bring in money to the local areas," he said. 

Heinicke adds that businesses along ROGG will financially benefit from it. But David Shealy, owner of Trail Lakes Campground off of US 41, says he’s not sure cyclists will help his business at all.

"They generally don’t spend that much money. They're not really shoppers. They don’t buy souvenirs. They carry their own food," Shealy said. 

ROGG is proposed to pass right by that camp on the levee parallel to Tamiami Trail. It’s a very private community.

Credit Jessica Meszaros / WLRN
R.O.G.G may be built next to Miccosukee Tigertail Camp, on the right.

"I’m not too comfortable with that because we don’t know how people are," said Diane Cypress who's lived at Miccosukee Tigertail Camp for about 50 years. "This is our private property and I know it's a public road, but I can't do that."

However, Mark Heinicke wants ROGG opposers to know that the project may not even happen.

"Nothing has been decided. This is strictly a preliminary analysis," he said. 

Heinicke says a feasibility study may be done by the end of the summer. The next step is an environmental impact study. And they don’t even have funding for it yet. They have to apply for grants and try to get donations. He says the trail could ultimately cost up to $75 million -- about a million per mile.

"Without funding for design or permitting, there's no construction," he said. 

Heinicke says if it does happen, it will still take many years to complete. Construction will most likely start on either end of the proposed trail and get built out toward the middle.