By Bobeth Yates

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A battle over a private road and the entrance to a public park came to a head Saturday.

Residents came together to protest the closure of Matheson Hammock Park’s west entrance, saying the closure is infringing on their public access rights and they want city officials to intervene.

READ MORE: Shooting Investigation at Miami Gardens Gas Station

“Open the gate,” said Scott Baxter.

He was among the group protesting the closure of the Matheson Hammock Park’s west entrance to cars.

“Everybody wants to go in the park now is going to have to walked down a path that’s almost a half a mile long,” added Baxter.

The groups said pre-COVID they were free to access the park with their cars from the Old School Road entrance. But now the location has been limited to only disabled and those walking.

“The closure of our gate, it’s limiting. It’s segregating an entire population of Miami-Dade residents. People with disabilities, elderly, pregnant women cannot walk that path you see right there,” said another protester Olga Jumbo.

The group blames the Hammock Lake Homeowner’s Association, which represents the small group of homes that surround the park for the closure. But the HOA president said wasn’t them.

“Now we’re the bad guys. Everybody says we’ve done all this stuff to politically influence the gate being closed and we’ve done absolutely nothing,” said Bill Ogden, president of the Hammock Lakes Association.

Ogden explained that from the mid-80s to 2009 the Old School Road entrance was only used for service vehicles and not open to the public.

In 2009 things changed and the entrance was expanded to those with disabilities.

READ MORE: Passing Asteroid Lights Up South Florida Sky

But, Ogden said because it was never policed, anyone could again access. He added prior to gate being closed last year for COVID, about 4,000 cars a month used the west entrance that goes through their small residential neighborhood. He said the bigger problem was happens when those cars got inside because there is no organized parking.

“The driving around in the park, letting the dogs run free, prevent other people from using the park. It was the Environmental Department of Dade County who decided that cars driving into a pristine highly protected environment having no parking and driving off road all over the place was not a good idea,” added Ogden.

But pro bono attorney Bruce Jacobs, who represents the Friends of Matheson Hammock Park West with attorney David Winker, disagreed.

“We expected Mr. Ogden would not be truthful,” said Jacobs. “This all started when Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman got Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez to meet Mr. Ogden just as the parks were about to reopen from COVID. Mr. Ogden, Judge Hanzman, and Commissioner Suarez are the reason traffic on Old School House Road is shut down. We have the receipts.”

By receipts, Jacobs is referring to a Freedom of Information Request which showed an email chain between Ogden and county officials.

In an email sent to county a official on April 15, 2020, Ogden wrote. “I have been trying to set up a meeting with you since we spoke to Michael Hanzman, last August but to no avail. Before the County parks closed, there were over 200 cars a day passing through our Hammock Lakes guardhouse and entering Matheson West.  That’s 400 trips daily on our residential streets. This would be an opportune time for you to consider keeping the gates into the park at School House Road close to private vehicles after the pandemic.

“Our neighborhood has no objections to any use that takes place in the park. All we want is for the public to enter the park from the parking lot on Old Cutler.”

Protesters say blocking the entrance to the park violates the deed to the park, and they’re hoping to have a sit down with city officials soon to undo it.

In response, Chief Operations Officer Jimmy Morales, who oversees parks, released the following statement:

MORE NEWS: Woman Fatally Shot By Police Serving Eviction At Brickell Building Identified As 40-Year-Old Stephanie Voikin

“Matheson Hammock Park is a unique natural resource and a special place beloved by many Miami-Dade residents, and we have been listening closely to the community about their concerns. We’ll be hosting a community meeting this spring to provide another opportunity to hear directly from park-goers and neighbors and work toward the shared goal of restoring this unique ecological preserve.”