Coral Gables

Trailblazers exhibit shows history, environmental impact of Tamiami Trail

The Trailblazers: The Perilous Story of the Tamiami Trail exhibit at the Coral Gables museum. The exhibit gives the history of the 275-mile highway and shows its environmental impacts.
The Trailblazers: The Perilous Story of the Tamiami Trail exhibit at the Coral Gables museum. The exhibit gives the history of the 275-mile highway and shows its environmental impacts. ldixon@miamiherald.com

The Tamiami Trail is among the most well-known roads in Florida for commuters between Tampa and Miami, but an exhibit at the Coral Gables Museum hopes to educate visitors on the history of the 275-mile highway, its impact on the environment and the plans for its future.

The exhibit, Trailblazers: The Perilous Story of the Tamiami Trail, opened in October and will remain at the museum until May 22, 2016. Curator Jon Ullman, an environmentalist, said that the exhibit began as a PowerPoint presentation and a conversation with the former museum director, Christine Rupp, and then became life-size.

“I had a PowerPoint presentation about efforts to elevate it,” Ullman said. “This is sort of that PowerPoint on steroids.”

The exhibit discusses the initial brainstorming efforts behind the trail in the 1910s and the efforts of some of the men behind the funding and design of the trail, including James Franklin Jaudon and Barron Collier. It also touches on the environmentalists who surveyed the trail in the 1930s and helped develop Everglades National Park, including Ernest Coe, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and David Fairchild.

Ullman said that one of the keys he wants visitors to walk away with is an understanding of what he considers the main reason for the trail’s construction—a boom in buying and selling land.

“This was the time where there was just incredible growth and people are trying to sell any kind of land they could and that extended to the Everglades,” Ullman said.

The exhibit is filled with snippets of old newspaper stories and advertisements, black-and-white pictures of construction and the celebration when the path was completed in 1928 along with videos and other interactive features. There’s also a rack of 1920s clothing for kids to wear and a Model T car in the middle of the exhibit.

As visitors follow the history of the trail, and wrap around the exhibit, it shifts to a discussion on the environmental impact of the road.

Acting museum director Caroline Parker said that the balance between the history of building the road and evaluating what it did to the Everglades was one of the main reasons the museum was excited to host the exhibit.

“The Tamiami Trail is both an engineering feat and an environmental disaster,” Parker said.

In 2013, a one-mile bridge was built to help mitigate the impact of the road, which blocks proper water flow into the Shark River Slough and Everglades National Park. Ullman said the next proposal is to construct an additional 5.5 miles to further clear the blockage. That project is expected to break ground in 2016 on Earth Day.

“We still have an opportunity to change things,” Ullman said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with the Everglades but we need to do everything we can.”

The museum will host a panel discussion on the trail and its future in February and will continue to bring in children to tour the exhibit through the Green City program.

“We have it up for nine months, concurrent with the school year,” Parker said. “Part of our mission is to bring as many K-12 students in as we can.”

Parker said that the exhibit is also designed to be a show on the road, and it may travel to other parts of Florida.

“Even though we’re called the Coral Gables Museum we are not just focused on Coral Gables,” Parker said.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

If you go

▪ What: Trailblazers: The Perilous Story of the Tamiami Trail

▪ Where: Coral Gables Museum, 285 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables

▪ When: Running through May 22, 2016

▪ Cost: Admission is free for museum members, $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors (with ID) and $3 for children 6-12.

▪ Information: Visit coralgablesmuseum.org or call 305-603-8067

Photographer Clyde Butcher will autograph copies of his new book, The Natural World Along Tamiami Trail, 7 to 8 p.m. Dec. 3 at the museum. Butcher’s work will be on exhibit from Dec. 4 through Feb. 28.

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