Much to the excitement of Upper Keys residents, Monroe County reopened portions of Harry Harris Park on Feb. 9 following months of closure after Hurricane Irma.

With phase one of the repair complete, the area south of the park’s boat ramp is now available for use from sunrise to sunset, including the kid’s playground, beach area, bathroom area and boat ramp. The park’s facilities north of the ramp, which include the athletic fields and Wilkinson Point, remain closed. Gravel has temporarily replaced the damaged asphalt of the boat ramp’s approach.

“We’re very pleased,” said Tavernier Community Association Director, and Harry Harris representative Rick Barreto. “On behalf of the residents of Tavernier I would like to thank the homeowners, public works, Assistant County Administrator Kevin Wilson, Commissioner Sylvia Murphy, and everyone who got involved and listened to the community.”

The months of work repairing the county’s parks have been, and continue to be, a team effort, said Robert Glassmer, Monroe County public works administrator for buildings, parks, and beaches in the Upper Keys.

The work began at Tavernier’s Settlers Park and Key Largo Community Park, before attention shifted to Harry Harris Park, he said.

“We left it for last because it was the worst, and received a lot of help from my colleagues,” including Key West Facilities Manager William DeSantis and Lower Keys Road and Bridges Supervisor Marty Slavic, said Glassmer.

Combining work crews from the Upper and Lower Keys was necessary at times, in part because one group had lost equipment to the storm the other crew still had, and vice versa.

“Since right after the hurricane we have been working 10 to 12 hours a day, from Monday to Monday,” said Glassmer. “In a time like this our crews stand together and work as one. Everyone pitched in, there was no complaining, and we worked hard to get everything online for the community.”

The northernmost area of the park is still being used to store a handful of remaining vessels recovered after the storm. Monroe County officials are expecting the vessels to be removed by the end of February. Sections of fence are still being repaired as well.

The park’s bathroom area, which once had electric hand dryers and automated toilets, has reverted to paper towels and manual operation.

“The field’s electric panels for the field lights are still under repair, so it may be a while until we play baseball, but the park is open and now Tavernier residents have a place to relax, walk their dog, and put their boat in the water,” said Glassmer.

Phase two of the park’s repairs includes fixing the lighting system and repaving walkways around the pond, Wilkinson Point, and the boat ramp. Once the last of the salvaged vessels has been removed, the crews will begin repairing the northern area of the park. In the meantime, work crews have focused their efforts on Monroe County’s Watson Field and Big Pine Key Community Park, which is expected to reopen soon.

The Village of Islamorada announced Feb. 9 that Founders Park entrance fees are waived for the next 90 days for Tavernier residents. Residents need only show a valid driver’s License with a 33070 zip code. The Village Council also approved a permanent entrance fee waiver for disabled United States military veterans and active duty military personnel and their immediate family.

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