Ticket to Ride: Free Trolley Service Expands Access to Everglades and Biscayne This Winter
Thirty miles south of Miami, the community of Homestead, Florida, sits in a lucky spot. Equidistant from two major national parks, with Everglades National Park about ten miles to the west and Biscayne National Park about ten miles to the east, residents and visitors are perfectly situated to enjoy some of the most beautiful lands, waters, and wildlife in the entire country.
There’s a problem with this arrangement, though—a problem that NPCA Senior Program Coordinator Jackie Crucet has been working to fix. A lack of public transportation to the parks has put these iconic places out of reach for many visitors and area residents.
Fortunately, last fall, the city council voted unanimously to approve and fund a new transportation project that Jackie had been championing for months—a free shuttle on weekends from the town to both parks. The trolley will run during the height of the busy season, which in South Florida runs from November to May. Better yet: The service is slated to begin in just a couple of weeks, on January 4. Shuttles will run three times a day on Saturdays and Sundays to each park.
The new service will depart from and return to the Historic Downtown Homestead trolley stop, which is located at Losner Park and connects to bus routes from Miami-Dade County public transportation. The trolley service will take visitors to Everglades National Park’s Ernest Coe Visitor Center and the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm. It also travels to Biscayne National Park’s Dante Fascell Visitor Center, where visitors can rent a kayak or canoe to explore the park, and to Miami-Dade County’s Homestead Bayfront Park, where riders can enjoy the public beach. This innovative project, is in collaboration with the City of Homestead, the National Park Service, and the National Parks Conservation Association, and is the only public transportation service providing access to South Florida’s treasured national parks.
The city of Homestead, which recently formalized its partnership with the parks by declaring itself a gateway community, already has a successful and well-used trolley system that serves more than 600 people a day, many of whom use it as their main or only form of transportation. Jackie was able to build widespread support for the new trolley route by arranging a small working group of local stakeholders, including representatives from the city council and public works department, both national parks, and the Center for Urban Transportation Research.
The county already levies a half-penny sales tax for transportation projects, and some of those funds will be available to launch and operate the new trolley route. Park officials at both Biscayne and Everglades even have tentative plans to staff the shuttle with an interpretive ranger to share area history for visitors en route.
The new service could help increase park access for the town’s diverse residents, boost tourism to the city’s many local businesses and historic sites, and strengthen the relationship between the community and the parks. In all, that’s a pretty sweet ride.