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Written by Janet Goodman, BT Contributor   
December 2017

Claude Pepper Park is an athlete’s dream

TParkPatrol_1he late senior statesman Claude Pepper served his Florida constituents for more than six decades. He was elected to the U.S. Senate, serving from 1936 to 1951, and later became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1963 until his death at age 88 in 1989.

An anti-communist liberal, Pepper is best remembered as the first chair of the House Select Committee on Aging, thus becoming a national spokesperson for seniors.

Congressman Pepper was honored with numerous public places in Florida named for him, including the Claude Pepper Center at Florida State University, the Claude Pepper Federal Building in downtown Miami, sections of U.S. Route 27 renamed the Claude Pepper Memorial Highway, Claude Pepper Elementary School in Miami, and the Mildred & Claude Pepper Towers, an independent living facility for seniors in Miami. Perhaps his single-most “fun” namesake is Claude Pepper Park in North Miami.

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Dedicated on May 10, 1975, back when John M. Stembridge was mayor, Claude Pepper Park is a vast 13-acre sports complex located between NW 135th Street and Opa-locka Boulevard, from NW 12th Avenue to NW 15th Avenue. Just about any ball sport you can think of has a designated field or fields here at Pepper Park -- except for soccer, which is played at nearby Ben Franklin Park.

Finding a parking spot on a slow weekday morning is easy. The east end lot is small, and according to a North Miami police officer I encountered, the larger south lot is gated except when there’s a sporting event. During the day, she likes to park in the shade of the east lot to write her reports, and this police presence makes the occasional visitor feel safe when the park is empty. But come to the park after school, evenings, or weekends, and it’s buzzing with people.

Located at the east gate entrance is a small exercise area with three pieces of Xccent Fitness equipment installed on a faded blue cement slab. Walk past that, and you’ll hit the motherlode of baseball fields. Three diamonds, each with two sets of bleachers, host North Miami Little League practice and games throughout the season.

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The baseball area of the park also features one old, worn-to-the-bone batting cage/bullpen for warm-ups, team dugouts, cement pathways connecting the fields, two water fountains, bike stations, ample benches for bystanders, trash receptacles, and a large concession building that is open during games.

The outfield of the baseball diamond in the center of the park is bordered by a football field. To the west of that are beautiful double basketball courts that are completely fenced. Located south of the basketball courts is the crown jewel of the park: the Claude Pepper Park Tennis Center.

This pristine complex of 12 outdoor hard courts has a tennis pro shop/snack bar, and bleachers for major events. It, too, is entirely fenced. Group and private lessons are offered here, where a USTA men’s adult evening league meets for practice and competitions, as well as a tennis summer camp.

Behind the courts is a wall with a bold, colorful mural, which separates the tennis area from the handball/volleyball court on the other side. You really have to know your way around the complex to navigate the fencing and gates with ease -- it’s a bit of a maze.

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If you think that’s enough for one park, you are mistaken. There is also a small playground on the southern perimeter by the baseball fields, consisting of two swings, a geodesic climbing dome, and other climber equipment on a woodchips surface. Adjacent to this tot lot is a pavilion with four picnic tables -- a perfect spot to eat a bagged meal from home or a snack from the concession.

Dotted throughout Pepper Park is additional outdoor fitness equipment, and natural shade is provided by palms, gumbo limbos, and black olive trees.

On this visit, there was very little litter on the grounds, but that is not always the case. Pepper Park enthusiast and Biscayne Gardens resident Robin Passmore tells the BT that sometimes she’s had issues with litter -- she keeps gloves in her car to pick up the trash herself -- and has made complaint calls about it in the past. According to Passmore, the park is clean in the mornings, but by nightfall, when foot traffic is high, litter is scattered about. She acknowledges that it’s hard for park employees to keep up with it.

Even so, Passmore is a big fan of Pepper Park. “Morning in the park is my meditation time,” she says, as she power walks with hand weights several times around the footpaths. She comes by every day, whether it’s flooded with visitors or fairly empty. Her grandson plays baseball here in the North Miami Little League.

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Just behind us, rising up at the park’s western edge, is the massive Joe Celestin Center. It is named for North Miami’s former mayor, who served from 2001 to 2005 and was the first Haitian-American mayor ever elected in the United States. (Celestin is a civil engineer whose renewed, three-year contract as site manager for the Biscayne Landing project on Biscayne Boulevard was terminated in 2013 as part of the 184-acre cleanup strategy for what has since been rebranded as SoLeMia.)

Dedicated on August 2, 2012, the 20,000-square-foot recreation center is two stories tall, although inside, it’s just one floor with high ceilings. The building cost $9.2 million to build and is funded by Miami-Dade County’s Building Better Communities General Obligation Bond. No worries about parking here -- there are two large, bricked-paved lots. Its centerpiece is a glass-walled indoor gymnasium that is rented out to private NBA trainers and others when available.

The city has listened to public feedback on potential amenities at the Celestin Center, and the result is a game room, a computer lab, and a reading room that fill out the space. These areas can also be rented by the hour. Activities include karate, cardio groups, Pilates, body sculpting, Zumba, and teen programs.

 

 

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Park_map

Claude Pepper Park
1255 NW 135th St.
North Miami, FL 33167
305-895-9840


Park Rating

palm-1palm-1palm-1palm-1palm-0


Hours:Mon-Sat 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.,
Sun and holidays 8:00 a.m. to sunset

Picnic Tables: Yes
Barbecues: No
Picnic pavilions: Yes
Tennis Courts: Yes
Athletic Fields: Yes
Night lighting: Yes
Benches: Yes
Playground: No

 

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