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Brickell resident-activist draws attention, activity to neighborhood jewel

All too often Brickell residents walk, jog, bike or drive by Simpson Park and wonder “what’s in there?” but are hesitant or don’t take the time to investigate. Brickell resident Adriana Tio and Park Manager Juan Fernandez are working to change that.

Tio, who moved to Brickell Harbour three years ago from Coral Gables says Simpson Park is a beautiful, natural sanctuary that should be enjoyed more by the neighborhood.

“I’ve always been a big lover of the Everglades, but it’s tough to get out there. When I rode my bike and walked through the neighborhood, I discovered Simpson Park,” Tio said. “But going in there and seeing it empty and underappreciated, I knew I had to try to make something happen to change it.”

Home to rare and endangered plant species, the park’s eight-and-a-half acres contains a remaining piece of what was once the Brickell Hammock, that ran from the Miami River all the way to the Grove. Tio sees the leafy sanctuary and its community building as the ideal venue for educational forums and social events.

“I thought, here we have this amazing jewel of a spot…this should be a community gathering place,” she said.

Tio met with Juan Fernandez, Parks Naturalist Senior with the City of Miami Parks Department who manages Simpson Park. It turns out he likes her ideas a lot, but lacks the budget to make it reality.

“All my life I’ve wanted to do a large project here to show the park’s value both historically and botanically, but my projects were on a much smaller scale because of our small, three-person staff,” Fernandez said. “We had been doing an environmental summer program up until two years ago, but had to end that because of too few staff.”

Tio and Fernandez are launching an educational initiative which will provide an opportunity for residents “to learn through educational classes, capture through paint and photography, and interact through hands-on workshops with the natural resources of Miami’s oldest urban forest,” they said. “Fans of biology, ecology, local history and art will have a destination for merging environmental, educational and community interests.”

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Mayor Tomas Regalado with Adriana Tio and Juan Fernandez at the gathering in May 2011 when the new plan was announced.

Not one to be quashed by a lack of financial resources, Tio is enthusiastic about their programming ideas and thinks that others will be as well. A reception was held at the Park in May to announce the concept and begin to gather support. Mayor Regalado applauded the concept and saluted Tio and Fernandez in their efforts. (The Mayor is seen touring the park with Juan Fernandez in the photo above.)

Tio is currently recruiting art and botanical experts from outside the park for a November planning charrette to discuss concepts for potential classes, educational programs and art events geared toward the local community. It is hoped that specialists, local artists and photographers will donate time to the project to help get it up and running.

Tio is hoping to have instructors in place for programs that could begin in February 2012. Some preliminary ideas include botanical walking tours, painting, drawing, photography, watercolor, even yoga and other exercise classes, perhaps twice a month on Saturdays. Feedback and suggestions from residents are also encouraged. “We want to hear from residents in the community about what they would like to see offered at the park,” Tio said. “Community involvement is key, we want to make this a joint effort where the residents are involved.”

Several community leaders are already committed, including attorney Spencer Crowley, a Brickell resident who is donating his time and services to help develop the program. Ernest Burkeen, director of City of Miami Parks Department, is supportive of the project, Tio said.

A majority of the programs will take place in the coral house that anchors the park, a donation from The Florida Federation of Garden Clubs. The interior was redone in 2003 and provides a warm meeting and programming space.

For Tio and Hernandez, they hope to see the beginning of many activities and projects in the future where residents and their children can learn about history, nature and art while learning about the botanical gardens of Simpson Park.

“Everyday I run into residents who live as close as four blocks away and don’t realize we’re here. This is an effort to create awareness of the gem they’ve got in their backyard,” Tio said.
BHA is supporting this project; anyone interested in helping should contact nbrown@brickellhomeowners.com

From BHA News, Vol. XXI, No. 2 – Summer 2011