If you are planning a visit to Everglades National Park, here is a checklist for what you need to bring.
Car: You can leave that at home.
That’s right. A car is no longer necessary to visit the park.
A new trolley system provides free transportation — and free access — to the two national parks, Everglades and Biscayne, located about 10 miles away from Homestead. The trolley makes about five trips every Saturday and Sunday from downtown Homestead to Everglades and Biscayne National Park as well as to Homestead Bayfront Park, a county park. This year the trolley will run through April, but officials hope that services will expand from the fall to the end of the spring, the peak season to visit the parks.
The program is a partnership between Homestead, the National Park Service and the National Parks Conservation Association.
“We were talking about how there is no public transportation to our parks. Without public transportation, there’s no access to the parks for people who do not have private transportation,” Jacqueline Crucet, senior program coordinator for the National Parks Conservation Association, told the Miami Herald at the trolley program's launching Saturday.
The event, held at Homestead's Losner Park, 104 N. Krome Ave., attracted about 150 people.
The trolley program is an expansion of the route of the existing free trolley system in Homestead. Federal grant money allowed Homestead to add another trolley to its fleet, and the Miami-Dade County half-penny sales tax for transportation funds the program’s operational costs of about $36,000 a year.
The trolley is an asset for South Florida residents and tourists alike. From Miami International Airport, tourists can take the Metro to Dadeland Mall and, from there, the Miami-Dade County public bus to downtown Homestead, said Crucet. Then, they can hop on the trolley.
“This trolley was the last link we needed to the parks,” she said.
The program is also a draw for long-time South Florida residents who have never been to the parks.
“I am ashamed to say I have never been to Everglades National Park,” said Palmetto Bay resident Gina Rosa, 76. “I was always kind of afraid to drive myself all the way there. And I don’t walk very well, so I can’t park too far. Now, with this trolley I don’t have to worry about the semantics of getting myself there.”
She made her first visit on Saturday with 23-year-old May Haile.
“If it wasn’t for the trolley, I wouldn’t go to Everglades National Park,” said Haile, who is visiting Rosa from Atlanta and does not have her own car during her stay. “The trolley gives people like me, who have only heard about the Everglades but cannot drive there over the weekend, a chance to see a state wonder.”
On Sunday, Rosa and Haile plan to ride the trolley again, this time making their first trip to Biscayne National Park.
“Hopefully the bus will leave early enough so that May can go kayaking,” said Rosa.
Program creators hope that the trolley would not only give locals and tourists an opportunity to see the national parks, but that it would also increase patronage of Homestead businesses. The National Park Service estimates that about $146 million trickle in annually to surrounding communities from visitors to Everglades National Park, and $34 million comes in annually from Biscayne National Park patronage.
Homestead officials hope some of this money will trickle into downtown Homestead as well.
Homestead is one of the only U.S. cities to be located between two national parks, a location that provides the opportunity to “capitalize on the ecotourism dollars,” said Vice Mayor Stephen Shelley, who worked with the National Park Service and the Nationals Parks Conservation Association on the trolley program.
Park patrons who use the trolley instead of their own vehicle can enter the parks for free.
For five-year Homestead resident Vicky Cerella, 59, the national parks were never a draw.
“To be honest, I always used to go to the beach on weekends,” she told the Miami Herald. So what drew her to the trolley that took her to Everglades National Park on Saturday?
“It’s free,” she said. “Maybe tomorrow, we'll go see Biscayne National Park.”