Sunset views from a planned park along the Big Pine Key waterfront draw unanimous praise but views on the park’s development plans do not. “We have received some negative response but we also have received a great many positive responses,” said Steve Miller, a Big Pine Key resident who chairs the Monroe County Parks and Recreational Advisory Board. Comments on proposals for the area known as the Big Pine Swimming Hole will be taken at an open meeting from 5 to 6:30 p.m. June 15 at the Big Pine Community Park on Sands Road.”
At the present time, the trend seems to be running toward a passive park,” Miller said. “We really want to hear from the community about what they want.” The property, south of U.S. 1 near the Pine Channel Bridge, has about an acre of usable space around a water-filled lagoon dug as a borrow pit long ago. “We’re looking at a sunset park, a place to get to the water and enjoy the water,” said county parks-board liaison Trish Smith from the county’s Public Works and Engineering Division. “Some folks have expressed that they don’t want anything there,” Smith said. “We’ve also gotten very favorable responses about having some type of recreational facility.”
A recent online survey on the county’s website drew 91 responses, of which 76 were ranked as supportive of a passive park. Asked specifically about what type of amenities are needed, many respondents asked for a parking area and a connection to the state’s Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, Smith said. Fishing areas, shade pavilions and a paddle-craft launch “were all very popular,” she said. Concerns about improving the area into a public park seem to center on unwanted camping by transients, trash and traffic on U.S. 1. “The primary concern from the neighborhood is that it will bring in the homeless,” Miller said Friday. “I believe opening the area will let us alleviate that problem.” Other people have said if restrooms are opened, “the liveaboards could move in and take over,” Miller said. “Bluntly, I’d be surprised if there is enough money for restrooms.”The area around the swimming hole “has a longstanding history of attracting homeless people, teenage parties and a becoming a trash repository,”
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin said. “There has been a long effort to get that area in shape. “The site is now closed to the public. The Sheriff’s Office has posted no-trespass signs, giving deputies the authority to arrest violators. The swimming-hole site was acquired by the state’s Florida Forever program as possible Key deer habitat. After biologists determined that the largely scarified land was of little use for the endangered deer, the parcel was turned over to the state Division of Recreation and Parks as part of the Overseas Heritage Trail. Plans for a state-funded park stalled during the economic downturn. Monroe County leased the property from the state last year. The June 15 meeting will be held on the second floor of the Big Pine Community Park’s community building. “We really want to hear from people so we have a good idea about what the community wants,” Miller said.
He noted that any recommendation on the swimming-hole site from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will be subject to a decision by the Monroe County Commission.For information, contact Smith at (305) 453-8808 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.