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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Watery City as a muse

Dr. George, the renowned historian, local author, Miami Dade professor, and fascinating story teller guided a boat tour through HistoryMiami from Bayfront out to Stiltsville. We got a perspective of the city from the coastline that layered all different eras on top of each other, and left us as breathless witnesses to the current transformation. The Brickel area buildings are rumored to be the densest outcropping of buildings anywhere in the USA. The open spaces all have cranes at work. Miami is skyrocketing up to the clouds at the edges of the water and creeping up the coast to the north. We saw where landfill from channel dredging for cruise ships has turned 3 acre islands into 120 acres, and where the earth scraped bare by Hurricane Andrew in the early nineties has been restored to a lush natural habitat.

The talk was fast and full of trivia and lore. He had us turning from side to side and riveted throughout the ride. I wish I had taken notes!
The seven Stiltsville homes are located in Biscayne National Park approximately one mile south of Cape Florida. These homes are the remaining structures of a community that dates back to the 1930’s. It started with a bait man selling bait out of a grounded vessel. Soon other grounded vessels were dragged out there and small businesses popped up to serve fishermen and recreational boaters... then additions of wooden structures to shelter the  vessels were built. Soon someone built a porch along his establishment to create a drinking club. In the 1950's The Bikini Club allowed free membership to women arriving in nothing but a bikini. Wild parties and lawlessness abounded. Today the Stiltsville Trust, a non-profit organization, manages public use and maintenance of the structures in accordance with a signed agreement with the National Park Service. I was surprised that only 7 of the maybe 30 at-one-time structures was still standing. One of the heirs, now called "caretakers" for the national park partnership, was on board and shared his experiences growing up with his family using the houses as recreational escapes (after the raciest of times were over). He spoke of how all the children had little skiffs and everyone was diving and snorkeling and at times it is so shallow you can stand.

The trip was inspiring and really got me to add a few more things to my Miami bucket list. I need to bike ride the backside of Key Biscayne, and experience a sailing trip leaving Miami way behind me.

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