By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – It is a trend coming out of the COVID shutdowns that looks like it is going to stay with us. In the last couple of years, Miami-Dade folks learned to love their parks and open spaces.

Maria Nardi, the Director for Miami Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department, told CBS4 News, “During the pandemic parks were the place that brought everyone to gather where people could gather and socially distance at the same time.”

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Shut down during the early days of the 2020 pandemic, Miami-Dade parks were the first in the nation to reopen their 270 parks, which include traditional parks, boat ramps, golf courses, a shooting range, and Zoo Miami and what happened? “I think people rediscovered parks, rediscovered what parks mean in their lives.”

For example, Zoo Miami had record-breaking crowds.

Over a million visitors this year went through the turnstiles.

There were big numbers in all Miami-Dade parks. Whether on the water or strolling through the shady park trails across the county.

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As residents became vaccinated and the county “opened up,” the crowds kept coming to the parks. “And the numbers are sustained so we can continue to see a larger number at all our parks,” said the parks director.

Then came the 305 Thrive survey a sample of 26,000 residents which is an attempt by the country to determine just exactly what citizens want from their government. The survey produced a surprising result.

The number one issue respondents listed was public safety. Number two is housing, which is a major Miami-Dade issue. Then, that “surprising” number, open spaces, parks, Miami-Dade residents apparently like the green, the water, places to chill out.

“I think people do want to slow down, they want to achieve that home, work balance. I think we are an integral part of that equation,” said Nardi.

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For sure, the 305 Thrive survey results will be used to advocate the need for parks during Miami-Dade parks budget considerations.