A calm-weather weekend turns the Harry Harris Park Boat Ramp into one of the busiest spots in the Upper Keys.
In a waterfront community with limited public access to open water, the two ramps at the Monroe County public park in Tavernier lead straight to the beckoning expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. “Monday through Friday, it’s free to everybody and there’s no problem,” said Sylvia Murphy, county commissioner representing the Upper Keys. “On the weekend, the ramps are vastly overcrowded — mostly with out-of-towners.” “Locals don’t get a chance unless they get there at the crack of dawn,” Murphy said Thursday. “Now the ramp is a bargain. It’s about time we started charging what it’s worth.”
Murphy plans to ask fellow commissioners to approve a hike to $20 for out-of-county boats launching at Harry Harris Park on weekends, along with a $7 to $8 entry fee for non-residents. She intends to schedule the discussion for the board’s next meeting in Key Largo, which will be Sept. 6. Currently, Harry Harris Park staff charges non-Monroe residents $5 per person to enter on weekends, with a $10 launch fee for out-of-county boats. Local residents can launch at no cost. The park, off the oceanside of mile marker 92.6, has just 20 large parking spaces that accommodate vehicles with boat trailers, which go fast and serve as the main limiting factor in ramp use. Since she voiced support for a fee hike at the commission’s June meeting, Murphy said she has heard no complaints. “I have heard from people who are all for it. ”
Proceeds from the price hike could be used to ensure the park staff has an additional person on duty to keep things moving in an orderly manner at the ramps, the commissioner said. “One person takes money at the gate and the other keeps an eye on the ramp,” she said. “We did that on the Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends and it worked beautifully.” Harry Harris Park’s ramps have deep-water access and can handle larger boats. By contrast, the county-owned Sunset Park’s ramp on the bayside near mile marker 95 leads to shallower water and has only a handful of trailer-parking spots.
The Plantation Harbor Marina at Islamorada’s Founders Park charges non-village residents $30 for in-and-out use of its ramp ($15 to launch and $15 to retrieve). Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park charges a $10 launch fee after paying an $8 per-vehicle park entry (plus 50 cents per person).