Matheson Hammock Park is one of seven Miami-Dade Parks that is designated a Heritage Park. This special designation recognizes the important role these parks play in the cultural, historical and recreational history of Miami-Dade.
The weather is just starting to turn slightly cooler for South Florida and there’s a wonderful breeze; the perfect conditions for a bike ride. I mount my bike to my car and set off for what I consider to be the best spot to start or end a bike ride: Matheson Hammock Park. In the late ’80s, my friend Richard introduced me to Matheson Hammock Park – his favorite park. He was surprised I hadn’t been there before since it is the oldest park in South Florida. The first time he took me there, we started our bike ride at the entrance to the mangroves, where the bike path begins. As we pedaled off, I remember thinking that I was in paradise. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was to ride through the mangrove forest, within sight of the bay and where the top of the trees formed a majestic canopy that dropped the temperature at least 10 degrees, even in the dead of summer. That was the moment I was hooked. Matheson Hammock immediately became my favorite place in all of South Florida, where I would return decades later.
Matheson Hammock Park is one of Miami-Dade Parks’ Heritage Parks. It opened in 1930 under the first Parks Director A.D. “Doug” Barnes and was designed by renowned landscape architect William Lyman Phillip. In 1930, William J. Matheson and his son Hugh donated approximately 85 acres of tropical hardwood hammock forest off Old Cutler Road to what was then called Dade County, to be use and maintained perpetually as a botanical garden. This 85-acre tract of land, originally referred to as Matheson Botanical Hammock, was the County’s first public park.
In 1934-35, the county purchased an additional 420 acres of mangroves and hammock lands adjacent to the park, increasing its size to more than 500 acres, with a mile of frontage on Biscayne Bay. In 1936, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crews were assigned to Matheson Hammock and began to develop the Bayfront park area. Buildings and a picnic shelter were meticulously constructed out of coral stone rock and limestone. Without the use of the inexpensive and skilled labor force under the state and federal assistance programs, it would been impossible to build the miles of beautifully hewn coral stone walls and the native stone building which stand in perfect condition to this day.
Throughout the years, an additional 120 acres were acquired by various means. Today, Matheson Hammock Park and Marina spans 620 acres. In addition to one of Miami-Dade County’s most popular marinas, it features an atoll pool sought out by countless families, a bike path, a picnic area with historic tiki huts, a coral picnic shelter, natural areas, a wading beach where you can launch a kayak or canoe or go wade fishing, and an on-leash dog park, and the original coral rock buildings that have withstood hurricanes and the test of time.
I spoke with Matheson Hammock’s park manager, a native Miamian, and he has his own personal history with the park. He grew up going to Matheson Hammock Park and recalls how his stay-at-home mom would bring him and his brother and two sisters several times a week. They would play in the water and sand at the atoll pool, or they would have family picnics or lunch at the concession stand. It was fortuitous that so m decades later he would become the park manager at the very park where he grew up in, and which he holds fond memories of
“It’s not a job for me,” he admitted. “It feels more like home. This is where I came as a child and where I launched my first boat when I was 17. Not much has changed here. Even the toll booth operator, Larry, is the same attendant from when I first started boating and fishing in my teens.”
If you’re into adventure water sports or want to learn, look no further than Matheson Hammock’s Adventure Sports Miami, where you can kiteboard, paddleboard, or rent canoes and kayaks and explore the Bay. America Adventure Sports Miami provides lessons on kiteboarding, stand-up paddle boarding, yoga paddle boarding, and kayaking. Lessons are and are open to people of all ages. Adventure Sports Miami is open daily at 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
If you’ve always wanted to sail, or drive a power boat on the open waters, then the professionals at Castle Harbor Boating School can show you the ropes with classes for all levels and ages. They teach sailing and power boating and are the only organization that teaches how to master a power boat on the pen water in all of South Florida. Their class helps to lower your insurance costs.
The school opened in 1949 as Castle Harbor Sailing School at Dinner Key and then moved to Matheson Hammock Park. They changed their name to Castle Harbor Boating School after they grew and began offering other programs. They offer sailing summer camps and are also the only organization to offer a five-day power boat summer camp for children ages 10-16. Upon completion of the power boat summer camp, the children take the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s written test and receive the certification for power boat drivers under age 23.
Castle Harbor also rents sailboats and powerboats and offers a boat ownership program, where you can rent out your sailboat or powerboat to offset its cost. For the past 45 years, they have hosted a sailing race every Saturday for experienced and beginner sailors. The cost to race is $50. Visit their website for more information.
Once you’ve mastered the power boat and own your own boat, you’ll need a place to launch or store your boat. Boaters are all too familiar with Matheson Hammock’s marina, which is one of South Florida’s most popular marinas. The marina features a bait and tackle shop, fuel dock, vessel staging area, 10 boat ramps, two fish stations, wet slips, boat trailer parking, picnic tables, restrooms, and boat cleaning stations. Matheson Hammock Marina is consistently awarded the Clean Marina designation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Matheson Hammock Park is a truly unforgettable destination. Whether you want to take a bike ride through the mangroves, look for a great restaurant, or go for a swim, Matheson has it all. Experience its heritage.
The writer, Edith Torres not only loves Matheson Hammock Park, but she is a proud member of the Miami-Dade Parks Communications and Marketing Unit where she gets to live and work a park life!
Above content provided by Parks-Foundation of Miami-Dade and Miami-Dade Parks & Recreation