By staff writer
As its name implies, Historic Virginia Key Beach Park is rich with history. Since it reopened in 2008, however, the park has wasted no time in establishing itself as both an environmental preserve area and a prime site for cultural events.
Virginia Key’s history dates back to the 1920s, when it became a haven for the local African American population due to segregation. It remained a segregated zone in the 1950s and was closed by the city in 1982 due to high maintenance costs. In 1999, however, a group of locals that called themselves the Virginia Key Beach Park Civil Rights Task Force organized in response to developers looking to buy the land. As a result of their efforts to highlight the value of the park’s history, the city established the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust to oversee its future development.
Since it reopened to the public in 2008, Historic Virginia Key Beach Park has become a popular site for everything from summer camps to large music festivals. In a recent conversation with Invest: Miami, Guy Forchion, the park’s executive director, highlighted the park’s value as a community center — particularly for local youth.
“The YMCA opened a summer camp here focused on marine biology before we even opened up to the public. Two years ago, we added two other summer camps,” Forchion explained. “HistoryMiami Museum brings students and schools through for tours of the park as well, which is truly the future of the park — being able to tell its story to young people and educate them about its history.”
The park hosted the 2018 House of Creatives Music and Arts Festival last November, which featured regional, national and international music groups, including big names such as Foster the People and MIA. The festival also showcased local cuisine with an array of vendors from various restaurants in the area.
This event came on the heels of the widely publicized announcement that the park would be the site of the famous Ultra Music Festival, which traditionally has been held in downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park.
“The people with the Ultra Music Festival worked with us very actively and responsively from the moment they announced the event would happen here,” said Forchion. “Ultra did a great job working with us to protect the natural environment here as well. They did all they could to protect the area and make the event as ‘green’ as possible.”
He said the music festival had a minimal impact on the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park venue, though a more comprehensive assessment of the event’s impact on the property would follow. “With several more days of production breakdown and loadout, we look forward to the opportunity to review the property in its entirety,” he said.
Outside of providing a fantastic venue for music and arts, the park is also crucial to the study of rising sea levels. “There has been an incredible change in our shoreline in just the last eight years,” Forchion explained. “The park is a living experiment in this regard, and the University of Miami has had classes come and spend a week on the beach each year to do research on rising sea levels, as well as on the aquatic ecosystem here.”
The park was also recently awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Sciences grant to digitize its extensive photo archive. And future goals include the establishment of a full-blown museum — a project Forchion and the city have been working on. They’ve already drafted legislation to fund the planning and construction of the museum.
The park generates “a lot of revenue,” Forchion pointed out — a fact that can only help their cause.
To help preserve the park’s legacy and enrich its future, locals can make donations to the park by visiting: https://virginiakeybeachpark.net/donate/