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Why Should We Save the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park?

October 11, 2013

“Look at Google Earth, and you will see there are very few green spaces left in Key West. To remove vegetation or increase human activity to the exclusion of wildlife is unthinkable at this point .”

–Dr. Ken Meyers, Director of the Avian Research and Conservation Institute, discussing possible changes within the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park

Given a choice, Key West recently voted for protecting the environment and our quality of life, even over possible economic benefits. 75% of voters voted against starting a process which might have ended in dredging in Key West’s harbor dangerously close to our beloved coral reef and our marine wildlife preserve.

The battle to protect Key West’s fragile ecosystem from overdevelopment rages on. Now, the future of a small nature pocket certain city officials consider “underutilized” is on the table. The City recently presented three possible redesigns for the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park to a room full of locals. On the whole, the public (myself included) was not thrilled with the direction in which the park seems headed. You can read the Citizen’s report about the meeting online.

As per Florida Keys Audubon’s official statement regarding the proposed redesign: “The 8-acre Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park on White Street contains over 75 species of native trees and plants, as well as a freshwater pond. Hundreds of locals and tourists visit the park per year to enjoy a bit of quiet nature in an otherwise urbanized area. The park is a destination spot for birders who travel to the Southernmost City hoping to check the White-crowned pigeon or White heron off their “lifer” lists.”

I frequently bring my bike tours there to let them wildlife-watch, and people are delighted by the birds, iguanas, and freshwater turtles.

Personally, I love the idea of redirecting Atlantic Boulevard so that the park is attached to Rest Beach. Connecting areas of natural space together is always great for the wildlife, and this would certainly be a boon for wading birds and land crabs who would no longer have to cross a busy street to move from the beach to the forest. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely local homeowners will allow this part of the plan to progress, as it would create a disturbance to their daily commutes and redirect traffic into currently traffic-free neighborhoods.

The most environmentally damaging piece of the plan would move the dogpark, currently located across the street in the County park, into or abutting the forested area of the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park. Why?– To make more lawn in the County park. Monocultured lawn is useless to wildlife, and Key West already has Bayview Park for anyone seeking lawn, plus, Hello!?  You cannot have dogs running loose in an area important to wild birds! In a show of hands, only two people (not including City Planner Don Craig who came up with the idea) approved relocating the dog park.

The plan also calls for pickleball courts, despite the fact that we already have tennis, volley ball, and bocce ball courts in Key West. A show of hands at the meeting proved that not a single person in the room played or cared about pickleball. I’d wager most Key Westers have never even heard of it.

Two of the three plans involved relocating the federally licensed wildlife rehabilitation center whose facility is currently housed in the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park, ostensibly to one of two sites in Little Hamaca Park on Government Road. The city planner appeared quite confused when people objected that it is counterproductive to replace wildlife habitat with a wildlife rehabilitation facility. Sigh.

I’m hoping Key Westers understand the value of a patch of relatively undisturbed wild space in an otherwise urban setting, and that they will join me in contacting our city’s leaders.



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