Harry Harris Park in Tavernier could see fees raised for visitors, as well as additional staff to deal with crowds and closing time.
County Commissioner Mike Forster took a moment during a recent board of county commissioners meeting to outline proposed changes to the park, which usually sees a high number of day trippers during holidays and weekends. Specifically, he proposed an increase in entry fees at Harry Harris that fall in line with rates at Founders Park in Islamorada.
Adults ages 18-64 would pay $8 on a normal day, while children 3-17 and senior citizens would pay $5. On holidays, adults would pay $15 and youths and seniors would pay $10. Active military and disabled veterans would be admitted for free with proper documentation.
As for the boat ramp, Forster proposed a bump in the fee from $30 to $40.
Forster said the park is overrun at times, with one attendant working. Not only does the county worker close down the park after sunset, but the person is also left telling people to leave.
“People who come in by boat are indulging a little bit and are not so ready to leave. Here, you just have one person who’s asking people to leave,” Forster said. “We need to stagger and at least have two people closing at all times.”
Frustrations reached a boiling point on Feb. 14 when the park reached capacity. Several calls were made to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office that ranged from people expressing frustration that they couldn’t enter to the attendant being berated by those not allowed inside. No arrests were made from the calls.
The Tavernier Community Association crafted a letter to county commissioners urging some kind of action to mitigate the problems. Forster held a virtual town hall on March 1 to hear the concerns from neighborhood residents. Constituents and the county commissioner left the virtual gathering in agreement on the issues seen and measures to calm the chaos.
Proposals brought forth by Forster weren’t met with opposition from fellow county commissioners and county staff. Resolutions or ordinances will be brought back before the county commission for consideration and approval.
Forster said he’d also like to have park attendants go through parking enforcement training to issue tickets for illegal parking, littering and other citations. Not only will the park gain some cost-recovery through fines, but calls to the sheriff’s office will be reduced. Some 250 calls for service were made to Harry Harris Park in 2020, and Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said most of those were self-generated by deputies.
“We’re trying not to make the sheriff’s office the first call, but the second call,” Forster said. “I really believe since we’re in season now, we can get some cost recovery; we can generate some funds and get some compliance.”