Bill Baggs State Park Celebrates 50 Years Thanks To One Reporter's Efforts
On Saturday, a full moon party took place at Bill Baggs State Park. It was birthday party, to be exact.
The 400-acre park - which takes up a third of Key Biscayne - usually hide in the shadows, looking across the water at the bright lights of downtown Miami. But, on this particular night, lights were strung under the historic lighthouse and music rippled through the surrounding tides to celebrate the park's 50th anniversary.
The park is named after former Miami News editor and conservationist Bill Baggs, who paved the way for its creation under the argument that all South Florida residents deserve access to nature.
Amy Condon can be counted among Baggs' fans. She is currently writing a biography after seeing how little of his story has been told. “There’s big southern editors like Ralph McGill from the Atlanta Constitution, Hodding Carter, Harry Ashmore - all these big names and he’s a footnote in their stories,” Condon says.
With the Miami News, Baggs broke the story about the Cuban missile crisis two weeks before President John F. Kennedy acknowledged the event. He attended two peacekeeping missions to Vietnam, reported on and supported civil rights, and was the last journalist to interview Ho Chi Minh.
But, through everything, Condon says nature always had a special place in his heart.
“He had a deep belief that everybody, regardless of wealth, race, ability, needed access to the outdoors.”
When the land that would later become the state park went up for sale over 50 years ago, Baggs began campaigning for the state to purchase it.
“Developers wanted to build condos all along the point of Key Biscayne. And he, being an advocate for Miami, he brought to everyone’s attention: ‘Wouldn’t that be great if that was just park land,’” President of the Friends of Cape Florida Theodora Long says.
Baggs bombarded the paper with editorials and open letters advocating for the importance of protecting the land from development. After negotiating with the family that owned the area to cut their asking price in half, the park’s future was secured.
However, Baggs did not live to see a state park be created. He passed away from pneumonia the same month the land was purchased.
“He would’ve loved this. What it has become. This beautiful, historic, lush, but special place because you don’t find this anywhere else in Miami,” Condon says.
Baggs’s mission to maintain the park was continued with Saturday’s event. The money raised went to purchasing new vehicles and equipment for the park’s beach clean ups and sea turtle conservation.