Twenty-three protesters slowly walked in circles outside of County Hall in downtown Miami on Wednesday, protesting plans for the Rivers of Grass Greenway — a 76-mile bike trail that would run from Naples to Miami.
The group, made up of native Americans and other critics, carried signs that read “Protect nature by leaving it undisturbed” and “Respect indigenous rights.” Then, to the steady beat of a tribal drum, they walked to the Miami-Dade Parks Department to formally deliver written objections to the project’s manager, Mark Heinicke. The period for public comment was supposed to end at midnight but after a 30-minute discussion outside the building, Heinicke agreed to extend the comment period another two weeks until July 15.
“Some people didn’t get a copy of the plan until mid-month,” Heinicke said. “It’s a pretty thick book.”
Betty Osceola, a member of the Miccosukee tribe, joined others in applause. “This will give more people time to learn about it.”
Although she has read the 265-page report outlining details for the paved 12- to 14-foot-wide path, she said she needs more time to interpret it for the tribe’s elders.
Most of the protesters arrived in shuttles from the Miccosukee Resort, off Krome Avenue at the edge of the Everglades in west Miami-Dade, but a few jumped in at the last-minute. Thirteen-year-old Juliette Acanda saw a Facebook invitation Wednesday morning and decided to march alongside her history teacher, Monica Rosales from West Miami Middle School. Rosales chaperoned students on a science field trip to the Everglades earlier this year.
“That’s how they fell in love with it for the first time,” Rosales said. “It’s the first time they saw South Florida without city lights. It seemed pretty urgent for us to come and show our support for the environment.”
Money isn’t yet secured for the proposed trail, projected to cost as much as $140 million, and more environmental studies must be done. According to Heinicke there are “many, many more phases of work.”
“It’s not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination,” Heinicke said. “If it gets built it could be 30 years from now.”
More than 2,000 people have signed the petition “Help Save the Everglades from Further Destruction,” on change.org which calls the plan a “Potential Pandora’s Box.”
Supporters didn’t show up for a counter-protest. But reached by phone, Ken Bryan, director of the Florida chapter of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy organization, laughed at one contention that the trail could lead to fracking by oil drillers.
“They think this is the nail in the coffin to the Everglades,” he said. “As if cyclists are going to ride out with their CamelBaks and water bottles full of oil.”