When Joey Vazquez began doing charitable work with HandsOn Miami’s Youth Advisory Council, he was a 15-year-old freshman at Christopher Columbus High School.
“Something just clicked in my head. I’ve always loved helping people and it’s something I’ve been trying to do my whole life,” said Vazquez, now 17, who has been part of the youth board for the past two years. “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Vazquez, along with more than 100 others, spent Saturday morning, April 16, cleaning up a section of abandoned railroad track behind A.D. Barnes Park at 3401 SW 72nd Ave. to make way for the Ludlam Trail project — a proposed 6.2-mile urban greenway that will stretch from Dadeland Mall to Northwest Seventh Street. The council, made up of teens 13 to 17, decided on this project as part of their Global Youth Service Day event, a Youth Service America initiative that celebrates contributions made by young people seeking to better their communities.
For now, the goal is to create a continuous mixed-use trail with dedicated bike and pedestrian path that will stretch the length of the trail.
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Volunteers, young and old, helped haul away planks of wood that made up the old track. While the kids were able to carry some of the smaller chunks with them, the adults teamed up to take care of the larger ones. Several of the younger kids painted over graffiti on the dividing wall where event organizers plan to have a mural celebrating local art.
Wheelbarrows carried assorted pieces of illegally dumped debris that accumulated over years. Dozens of tires, warped by exposure to the sun, were stacked at the entrance of the cleanup site. Several large boulders and chunks of cement would have to be picked up later with proper equipment.
“One of the most important things about the trail is cleaning it up. You have people out here doing God-knows-what,” said Manuel Orbis, special projects liaison for Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa. “Now, instead of having this piece of land that nobody knows about, we’re going to have a nice clean trail. Events like this help bring awareness.”
Orbis and Alfred Lurigados spent time Saturday talking to some of the residents whose homes neighbor the tracks. One couple voiced to them their appreciation that efforts were being made to clean up the mess in their backyard. Orbis says that one of Sosa’s most passionate stances on the project is that no construction take place behind single-family homes.
Currently, the property upon which the Ludlam Trail will be built belongs to Florida East Coast Industries. Lurigados works for the company and has been involved in the Ludlam Trail project since its infant stages.
Lurigados says the ultimate goal is to create a connection that stretches from Miami International Airport to Dadeland, to the proposed Metrorail Underline project, and then to the Miami River greenway extension, creating an unimpeded 22-mile loop around the city. He has been working with public and private entities over the last two-and-a-half years to turn that vision into reality.
Just last month, Gov. Rick Scott OK’d $3 million to purchase the land Ludlam Trail will be built on, as well as an additional $2 million for the Underline project, which would create a 10-mile linear park from Metrorail’s Dadeland South to Brickell stations.
“Our vision is a more active trail,” Lurigados said. “Take Central Park. Central Park is not just a trail and a park. It’s a huge gathering place for people. We want this to be a new place for people to come to the outdoors and share with their community.”
Vazquez and the rest of his friends with HandsOn Miami’s youth council were pitched on the idea of cleaning up the trail by urban planner Eric Katz, one of the minds behind the Ludlam Trail. They were sold the moment Katz, 31, told them about the larger vision for the project.
“When he finished his spiel and told us what they were going to do here, we were like ‘This is it,’” Vazquez said. “Once we heard what they wanted to do with the city, make it more sustainable, we were in.”
To motivate other young people to join them, Marlins Ayudan, the home baseball team’s charity arm, offered registered volunteers free tickets to watch the Fish take on the first-place Washington Nationals. Other private entities like Waste Management and O-Gee Paint also pitched in to help with supplies and services for the event.
“It’s hard for a lot of kids. It’s Saturday morning, they might have homework, or they might want to sleep in,” Vazquez said. “At the end of the day, I love seeing my friends come out and get together to make our city a great place to live.”
Follow Daniel Hidalgo on Twitter, @DanielJHidalgo