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Tour The History Of Biscayne National Park

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the national park system. And of course, South Florida is home to two big ones: Everglades National Park and the sometimes-misunderstood Biscayne National Park.

Until May 1,  a new tour offered by the Park Service and Miami-Dade County is trying to better familiarize people with watery Biscayne National.

Credit Wilson Sayre / WLRN
Brett Lear, one of the volunteer guides on the Pelican Skipper.

  From the moment the boat, the Pelican Skipper,”pulls away from the dock, you realize how many animals we’re surrounded by here in South Florida

“Bottle-nosed dolphins, manatees, brown pelicans, lots of cormorants, royal turns,” lists Brett Lear, one of the volunteer guides.

The tour heads to Boca Chita Island, one of the barrier islands at the edge of the park, and aside from the natural beauty, Lear explains, our destination has a lot of interesting human history too.

“It was a playground for the rich and famous back in the 40s,” explains Lear. “They’d go out and have a big party with all the rich and famous. [Miami Beach real estate developer] Carl Fisher had a pet elephant and he would take the elephant out there and give elephant rides.”

There’s a lighthouse there that was never operational. You can walk up and look back at the mainland and the expanse of the national park. From above, it’s easy to see the shark swimming around the mouth of the miniature harbor. You can also see the prop scars in the sea-grass, areas where motorboat propellers scraped across the bottom of the sea floor damaging the grasses where turtles nest.

Credit Wilson Sayre / WLRN
Boca Chita Key from the waters of Biscayne National Park.

  The island is a remnant of this intersection of  human history and the natural history of the area that, for the most part, is the reason Biscayne National Park exists today.

There once were plans to develop parts of the barrier islands, but a group opposed to it ended up getting national protection for the area.

The problem, though, says Lear, is that  today most people don’t even know that this is a park.

He hopes this tour could be a gateway for more locals to learn about what’s in their backyard.

The Pelican Skipper leaves from the southern entrance to the park in Homestead twice a day on most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. You can find more information about the tour here.