Damage ‘severe’ at many Monroe County parks

Storm-weary residents of the Florida Keys looking for relaxation may be turned away from more than a dozen public parks now closed by Monroe County for safety.

Hurricane Irma destroyed or severely damaged facilities at parks and boat ramps from Key West to Key Largo, reveals a summary released Friday by the county.

“Most of Monroe County’s parks, boat ramps and museums suffered damage due to Hurricane Irma,” county information officer Cammy Clark said.

Historic Pigeon Key in the Middle Keys is “closed indefinitely.” “Every structure on the island sustained damage – some minor, some major,” Clark said.

“Before hurricane Irma struck, the only access to the island was by boat due to the bridge repair work,” she said. “During the storm, the dock sustained severe damage and is unsafe for use.”

The Pigeon commissary building was knocked off its foundation and “severely damaged.”

“A full effort to stabilize and restore all historic structures is being made,” Clark said. “This will take several months.”

Veterans Memorial Park, on Little Duck Key at the south end of the Seven Mile Bridge is closed. “Severe damage, pavilions destroyed; it’s unsafe,” according to county staff.

Every Lower Keys county park outside of Key West is closed.

“Most” of the Big Pine Key Community Park is “severely damaged. It remains unsafe with non-functioning lights.” The building, dugouts and field at Watson Field Park all are damaged. The field lights are out.

Blue Heron Park and Baypoint Park are clogged with debris and have no lights. Big Coppitt Volunteer Fire Department Park is “full of water and fence damage.”

“Debris stacked on the right of way” blocks entry into Wilhelmina Harvey Park on Big Coppitt Key.

Even in the Upper Keys, Irma wreaked havoc on park facilities. Harry Harris Park, site of a popular public boat ramp on the southern end of Key Largo, may be closed “for months, maybe a year, for repairs to be completed.”

“The boat ramp, kids’ playground and beach areas were destroyed,” the county says. “The jetty washed away with severe erosion that is causing sea water to come across the road.”

Rowell’s Waterfront Park has been closed to serve as a temporary debris-collection site. The boat ramp at Tavernier’s Sunset Park is open but vehicle and boat-trailer parking at the neighborhood park are limited.

The Jacobs Aquatic Center at the Key Largo Community Park is open but the rest of the property is “closed until further notice to repair damage to make it safe.”

Friendship Park in Key Largo may be reopened after the playground is inspected for safety. Old Settlers Park and Burr Beach Park both are closed.

In Key West, Higgs Beach reopens Oct. 7. Restrooms will close at sunset. Higgs Beach’s Reynolds Street Pier will remain closed to the public. “Parts of the pier were destroyed by the storm and will need to be rebuilt.”

“The storm caused mounds of sand to be pushed onto the tennis courts and streets,” Clark said. “The sand that was salvageable was returned to the beach but some of that sand was swept into the water by recent king tides.”

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206