|Some Green in a Condo Ring|
|Written by Jim W. Harper|
Belle Isle Park is welcoming front yard for high-rise neighbors
Flooding in Miami Beach and beyond will soon be on everyone’s mind because of the arrival of the rainy season, and one place with high hopes of improvement is Belle Isle. The upscale island community can expect construction on its beleaguered drainage pipes to end this month. Construction on the bridge to the main island of Miami Beach may also wrap up, but work on the “Venetian Streetscape Project” can be expected to continue all year. No worries. This island is worlds away from the Palmetto Expressway, which seems perpetually under the knife, and the disruptions are only temporary.
The reconstruction of Belle Isle Park began in 2006, but some of its landscaping and amenities were added much later, making the park appear brand-new. A literal centerpiece on this round-ish, enhanced island (most islands linked by the Venetian Causeway are manmade), the park offers residents a green, peaceful spot to gather and be neighborly. Part of Miami Beach’s Capital Improvement Plan, the park’s renovation is valued at $600,000.
Visitors can drive to Belle Isle Park for free, or they can pay. The free way begins on the main island of Miami Beach and leads you west on the picturesque Venetian Causeway. The paying way brings you east across the causeway from downtown Miami, and through a toll. But an even better way to arrive, free from either direction, is by joining the legions of runners who make good use of the causeway. Indeed the park at Belle Isle is an ideal starting point or finish line for the 2.8-mile jog across the Venetian.
Coming from Miami Beach, Belle Isle is the first island you see, and it lies so close that you could swim to it (at your own risk) from South Beach’s Maurice Gibb Memorial Park, named after the late Bee Gee. Enjoy the view from there, because once you enter Belle Isle, you will be hard pressed to find an opening to the bay’s vistas.
Belle Isle Park’s 3.3 acres sit in the middle of a circular condo canyon so tightly packed that sunrise and sunset must pry their way into the circle. It’s enough to give you vertigo. Or you can induce hallucinatory vertigo by playing this game: Stand in the park’s center and continuously spin, spin, spin around with your eyes open. You may perceive the optical illusion of a horse galloping.
Although the park appears to be in the shape of an egg (another illusion?), it is actually a half-moon, owing to the Venetian Causeway slicing its northern edge. Along this sidewalk, you’ll find a rack of rentable Deco Bikes next to the bus stop. From this perspective, the park appears more urban, because there are public works at either end. The large, gray pump station gobbles up one corner, but it’s clean and innocuous-looking.
With no fence around the park, theoretically it never closes, but you want to be careful about parking. During the daytime on weekdays, parking is free, but after 6:00 p.m. and on weekends, the spaces around the half-moon turn strictly residential. Near the pump station, a few spaces offer visitors three hours of parking seven days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., according to the sign. Demand far outstrips supply, so good luck.
The park contains no official welcome sign bearing its name. In fact the only signs posted are at the entrance to the doggie park within the larger park. They tell you the doggie park closes at midnight and opens again for “business” at sunrise.
The off-leash doggie park, my favorite amenity, would be the only reason a nonresident would really want to visit this park. The green steel fencing cleverly splits the space into two sections -- I assume to keep the small dogs apart from the large dogs, but it’s not obvious to a visitor. Perhaps the Belle Isle residents know a secret doggie code. Posted is a list of rules, the last of which strikes a postmodern, self-aware tone: “Keep in mind this is a Dog Park and was created for dogs.” Um, duh.
The small park achieves a somewhat larger impact with its pinkish-orange (Miami red?) concrete pathways that loop and wind throughout. They call for strolling instead of power walking. You could conceivably run through here as a slight detour from the regular route along the Venetian, but you won’t see much more than you would from the street. Conducive to stretching, it’s more of a place to warm up or cool down.
You could try a 440 or half-mile, because the walkway morphs into an informal running track in the park’s center. It encircles a large, oval field that looks great for Frisbee throwing, but probably won’t work for soccer because the lack of lines, borders, and fencing means that balls would be constantly rolling toward the street.
The park’s renovators must have preserved some of the large, shady trees along the park’s border, but most of the park’s trees are juveniles and don’t offer much. A showpiece lignum vitae, a native tree, was planted in the center of a merry-go-round-size concrete circle, but these trees grow so slowly that it will remain a gnome for many years.
Picnicking is a no-no in Belle Isle Park unless you bring a spread for the grass. There are a few benches for old-school lounging, but there are no large tables and no pavilions for gatherings. The park also seems to be missing a playground, or at least something playful, although Maurice Gibb Park’s playground is only a stone’s throw away.
During my visits, I saw three elderly men sitting on a bench in the shade, people gathering with their dogs, and one guy strumming his guitar midday as if he were John Denver reincarnated. It’s nice to see the residents gathering somewhere other than a condominium association meeting.
All in all, Belle Isle Park offers a little shade, a little grass, and a winding road of relaxation. It looks like these Miami Beach residents got their money’s worth.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
Sales, special events, and more from the people who make Biscayne Times possible