Matheson Hammock Park, a beloved natural oasis in South Florida, is under threat and the menace hides in plain sight. Many visitors walk around admiring the vegetation that grows in the park, unaware that the majority of the plants are invasive, choking out local vegetation and wildlife.
Fourteen native plants have disappeared from the park. Many creatures that once thrived in the park have not been seen for years, including bobcats and the Florida Purple Wing Butterfly.
But Miami-Dade County has a plan and $5 million to tackle the problem.
The $5 million was awarded in equal parts from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Miami-Dade County Biscayne Bay Trust funds.
The two-year restoration project is set to begin this summer. It’s a continuation of efforts to manage the environmentally endangered lands of the park. In 1990 the county partnered with the Nature Conservancy and Fairchild Botanical Garden to enhance the ecologically sensitive areas found within Matheson Hammock.
The park runs along Biscayne Bay and can be accessed via Old Cutler Road in the city of Coral Gables. A popular destination within the park is the man-made atoll pool which is filled with water from Biscayne Bay. Visitors also can use a marina, and multiple biking and hiking trails.
“This $5 million grant is gonna be the thing that brings this entire vision to fruition,” said James Duncan, project manager for the restoration.
The funds were dedicated in a 40% and 60% split with $2 million going to coastal protection and restoration, and $3 million to freshwater wetlands.
Matheson Hammock is home to various diverse ecoregions, such as the Rockland Hammock, Pine Rockland, Snapper Creek Slough, and Mangrove Forests.
The grant money is supposed to pay for the restoration of these fragile ecosystems. Part of the work involves restoring 400 acres of mangrove habitats.
“We’re going to remove the solid waste there, remove the fill piles, we’re going to upgrade that entire footprint to the proper elevation, and we’re going to plant on a mix of mangroves”, said Duncan.
In the 1930s. a canal was dug to prevent flooding of nearby houses, effectively draining the historic Snapper Creek Slough, and drying up the area. Another goal of this restoration project is to install pumps to restore the hydro hammocks that once existed within the park.
Tree islands are elevated areas of land that are surrounded by wetlands, making them an important habitat for a variety of plant and animal species. This area in the park has been particularly ravaged by invasive plants. A massive removal plan for these nonnatives is set along with the planting of native trees.
Matheson Hammock is ground zero for saltwater intrusion and in order to make sure that the plants and animals have enough fresh water, the park will utilize intensive irrigation to push out saltwater.
The restoration project is projected to be finished by summer 2025. Visitors can still enjoy all amenities and activities the park has to offer as most of the restoration work will be done on the off-trail sites.