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 called 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 officially reopened to the public in 2008, Historic Virginia Key Beach Park has become a popular site for everything from ecosystem restoration projects 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.
“Historic Virginia Key Beach Park is a community meeting space, which is historically what this spot has been for communities of color in the past,” Forchion explained. “It was a space for the African-American communities and people of color; now it is a space for everyone. A lot of community activities, dialogues and fellowship can happen here.”
The park recently 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 future site of the famous Ultra Music Festival, which traditionally has been held in downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park.
Outside of providing a fantastic venue for music and arts festivals, the park is also crucial to the study of sea-level rise. “There has been an incredible change in our shoreline in just the last eight years,” Forchion explained. “Virginia Key is one of the monitoring locations for sea-level rise, and much of the research and studies happen close to us. Sea-level rise is being tracked, and it’s actually moving a bit faster in South Florida than most of the public timelines predicted. We are taking these things into consideration with the facility we are building.”
The facility Forchion is referring to is the museum that park officials hoped to start building back in 2008 to showcase the park’s history. However, due to the recession, in 2009 the City of Miami halted funding for the park, which now relies heavily on corporate philanthropy and private donors to maintain operations.
To help preserve the park’s legacy and enrich its future, locals can make donations to the park by visiting: https://virginiakeybeachpark.net/donate/