Beachgoers, cyclists, kayakers and paddleboarders visiting scenic Virginia Key may find it a little less scenic now that about 125 parking signs have been posted in an effort to streamline the parking system.
The tollbooth where drivers used to pay $6 on weekdays and $8 on weekends to enter the key has been closed. Drivers no longer have to pause or wait at the tollbooth and fees have not increased, but they do have to pay by phone or pay at a machine, as the abundant signs make abundantly clear. Don’t pay and you risk being socked with a parking ticket.
A sign at the Arthur Lamb Jr. Road entrance off the Rickenbacker Causeway announces the conversion to the new parking system, which is designed “To Better Serve You.” But you must have the pay-by-phone app on your smartphone or locate one of the 12 pay-by-plate machines within the park where you can pay with coins or credit card.
The city of Miami implemented the new “user-friendly” system Feb. 27.
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Visitors to the key are not universal in their approval, however.
“It’s annoying to have to pull out your phone, and for those who don’t have the app, there’s the pain of downloading it,” said Alex Larsson, a Key Biscayne resident who was using the mountain bike trails on Thursday. “I thought it was easier to just pay at the gate.”
Jose Palacios rides on the 60 acres of trails two or three times a week. He said paying at the booth was “more convenient.”
“But I don’t mind paying with my phone,” he said. “Most people are used to paying by phone now because it is common wherever you go.”
He objected to the profusion of signs that have sprouted every 25 yards on the tree-lined roadway as well as at the beach and bike parking areas.
“It’s a park and they’ve put up so many signs everywhere,” he said.
Rafael Valenciano and Bavie Grafals, who live in North Bay Village, enjoy biking on the trails.
“Visually, the signs are somewhat obtrusive,” Valenciano said. “I just hope they are not planning to build a luxury resort out here as their next project.”
Valenciano and Grafals said some of the parking money ought be earmarked for conservation efforts on Virginia Key. They lamented the lack of places where they can find trails in Miami-Dade County.
“There’s Virginia Key, Amelia Earhart Park, Oleta River State Park and that’s about it, so we end up driving out of town every couple weeks in search of state parks and open land,” Grafals said. “In Miami, the mentality is to tear down trees and put up buildings. It’s so sad. Every city needs green spaces.”
Virginia Key is an 863-acre barrier island that includes Miami Seaquarium, the old Miami Marine Stadium, University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Bill Sadowski Critical Wildlife Area and Historic Virginia Key Beach. Jimbo’s Place — the charmingly ramshackle open-air bar and smoked-fish joint — closed after 54 years in 2012 and has been replaced by the Virginia Key Outdoor Center and a cleaned-up lagoon for paddlers.
Right in the middle of it all is the Miami-Dade County’s Central District sewage treatment plant and a 116-acre swath of land that used to be an illegal dump.
The potential for that land as a gem of a park is enormous and residents have been clamoring for its clean-up for a couple of decades. The county recently bulldozed non-native vegetation as part of the process of sealing and closing the landfill, after which the parcel will be turned over to the city. The city’s seven-year-old master plan proposes building four baseball/softball fields, four soccer fields, four tennis courts, a playground, a recreational center and coastal hammock nature trails on the site.
“As part of the ongoing project, a good portion of the invasive species have been removed,” said Gayle Love, spokesperson for the county’s Department of Solid Waste Management. “Once the remediation is finished, the land will be available to the city.”