Local group still lacks funds to open historic Miami Circle to public
By Marilyn Bowden
With a bid to transfer management of the Miami Circle to the National Park System in the works, members of the Miami Circle-Brickell Point Planning Group are focusing on short-term maintenance of the site.
At a conference held Monday a few feet from the Circle, Sen. Bob Graham and Reps. Carrie Meek and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced the introduction of a congressional bill to incorporate the 2.2-acre site at the confluence of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay into Biscayne National Park.
The park, 9 miles east of Homestead, consists of about 181,500 acres along the South Florida coast, 95% of it under water. It includes a section of Biscayne Bay, about 45 lower keys and about 20 miles of mainland mangrove shoreline that includes other Tequesta sites.
"Legislation has been introduced," Sen. Graham said, "that will direct the Secretary of the Interior to undertake a resource study of the site's impact on the local community as well as its national archaeological significance."
He said the study would take up to 18 months.
Chairperson Janet Snyder Matthews, director of the state's Division of Historical Resources, said the planning group would focus on temporary maintenance at its next meeting in March. The date will be set by the Miami-Dade County Commission.
The immediate issues, Ms. Matthews said, are securing and stabilizing archeologically sensitive areas while making it possible for the public to see the site.
Michael Spring, director of the county Department of Cultural Affairs, which has been coordinating efforts for temporary shelter over the site, said he is still working on finding funds.
"Without funding," he said, "this will be an exercise in futility. But we hope to have a complete package ready to present to the planning group in March."
He said a pro-bono team of A.T. Franco & Associates, architects; ACE Bamboo & Thatch, builders, and EDSA, planning & landscaping designers, is putting together a model of the proposed structure designed to allow safe, economical public access while protecting the archaeological features from the elements with minimal further disturbance.
Mr. Spring set the cost at about $385,000 and construction time at eight to 10 weeks.
Public tours await completion of a temporary shelter, said J. Andrew Brian, president of the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, which will organize them.
In the meantime, he said, the public can get a "sneak preview" at the museum's Research Center, which is exhibiting a model of the Miami Circle along with artifacts such as the sacrificial remains of a bottlenose dolphin, sea turtle and shark found within it.
The historical museum has a grant for analysis of about 1,000 of the more than 200,000 artifacts so far uncovered in the area.
"It's a field day for archaeologists, " Mr. Brian said. "There's been a lot of interest ever since the discovery was announced. I think the National Park study is proper and in the best interest of the site and access to it."
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who was on hand for Sen. Graham's announcement, said since Sept. 11 museums across the country are reporting record numbers of visitors.
"People are returning to their heritage," she said, "to psychologically salve the wounds of the nation."