Tailgate parties, food vendors and staggering amounts of garbage don't belong on one of the Florida Keys' most scenic stretches of U.S. 1, say Islamorada residents and visitors.
Indian Key Fill, a three-mile stretch of manmade islands with vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Bay, now draws large weekend crowds who sometimes, block views and bicycle paths. Cleanup crews tasked with keeping the area's roadside clean find themselves overwhelmed, Islamorada Public Works Director John Sutter said.
"This has been going on for years but it's steadily gotten worse," Sutter said.
"After one of these weekend-long parties, our crews might be there two or three days just to pick up the trash," he said. "They still can't get it all. It's become unmanageable."
State and local agencies met this week to outline a plan to increase no-parking enforcement in areas, and replace rip-rap boulders that were moved from the shoreline to create illegal boat ramps for personal watercraft.
"The intent is not to close the Fill off but limit uses for what the area can handle," Sutter said.
"Right now we're seeing three miles of waterfront recreation where people seem to have no regard for the impacts on the shorelines, environment and bike paths — plus the tremendous amount of trash," he said. "Our citizens are disgusted."
Indian Key Fill connects Upper Matecumbe Key to Lower Matecumbe Key. Parking is legally allowed at the public boat ramp and at small paved areas near history markers. Parking anywhere else on the Fill, entirely owned by the Florida Department of Transportation, is technically illegal.
Efforts are under way to install more no-parking signs so Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputies can write citations.
The situation angered Lower Matecumbe Key residents when spillover from Indian Key Fill extended south to Sea Oats Beach, a strip of protected oceanfront near mile marker 74, on Mother's Day weekend last month. Cars parked along the berm and increased foot traffic have damaged restored plantings on the beach — a confirmed nesting site for sea turtles.
"Foot traffic on the berm, as well as the increasing numbers of beach-goers, endanger nesting sea turtles and shorebirds that stop on their migration route," said Donna Gleason, president of the Lower Matecumbe Key Association."
The berms and the plantings also safeguard the lowest section of U.S. 1 from flooding and erosion, Sutter said.
"After Mother's Day, there was a worry that Memorial Day might bring a huge crowd that would do damage that could not be undone," Sutter said.
DOT authorized a line of construction-warning signs to prevent parking at Sea Oats Beach. The barriers are still there and will stay until new signs -- designed not to damage the area's vista -- are installed.
The temporary barricades, "while not pretty, have been working as intended," Gleason said.
Sutter said visual aesthetics also will be a priority in improvement efforts at Indian Key Fill.
"Nobody wants to see a black fence like the one on the [18-Mile] Stretch," Sutter said. "We need enough no-parking signage to allow enforcement, but we don't want terrible sign clutter, either."
"In a way, we're a victim of the wonderful place we have," Sutter said. "It is so beautiful that people want to be here. But we also have a stewardship responsibility. It won't be as nice unless we take precautions."