|26 May 2004
Plan to re-open Miami Circle to the public
The State of Florida (USA) is considering restoring access to the Miami Circle now that a federal study is looking at long term strategies for the 2,000-year-old artefact. The Circle was discovered nearly six years ago during the archaeological survey of a planned condominium site. The question of public access has been in abeyance while federal, state and local governments discussed its fate. Now Ryan Wheeler, chief of the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, is working on a short-term access plan that could be ready for discussion in a month.
The Circle was created by the area’s aboriginal settlers near the confluence of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay. The find captured the public imagination and after a strong media campaign Miami-Dade County claimed the 2.2 acre site by eminent domain. But the question of whether the site would eventually be included in the National Park Service has made decision-making difficult, according to Wheeler. The site was reburied in the summer of 2003 to protect it from weather erosion. A bill authorising a feasibility study into whether the Circle should be included within the Biscayne National Park was passed in October as a priority, following the Florida Department of State’s agreement to foot the cost. The study is expected to take about 18 months.
In the meantime the Florida Division of Historical Resources currently leases the site from the Division of State Lands. “Under the formal terms of the lease we are required to develop a management plan that takes the feasibility study into consideration,” says Ryan Wheeler. “We’re working closely with the parks people on this. We want to avoid developments there that couldn't be easily reversed – concrete paths, buildings and so on.” The Miami Circle Planning Group has offered ‘divergent opinions about what kind of access is appropriate’. The Miami River Commission has suggested a trail along the seawall, but that does not come close to the Circle. Planning also needs to balance access against Native American views that this is a sacred site. Wheeler has suggested scheduled tours, onsite stewarding facilities and interpretative signage as an alternative to unregulated access. The Historical Museum of Southern Florida had offered to provide interpretative material for an earlier plan. Wheeler says it makes sense to include the museum in the new management plan: “They have a terrific museum exhibit including a lot of information on the Circle and indigenous peoples, so it makes a lot of sense.”
Michael Spring, executive director of the county’s Cultural Affairs Department has hailed Wheeler’s minimalist approach as “a breath of fresh air. He’s truly interested in moving aggressively on interim access. Both that and the feasibility study bode well for getting the site open.” Ryan Wheeler says: “It would be terrific if the National Park Service took over the property but the results of the study may indicate that’s not the best fit. It’s important to get it ready for minimal access so that when we turn it over to the parks department or another manager. It will be an easy transition.”
Michael Spring has confirmed that the US Department of the Interior has announced another study, to designate the Miami Circle a National Historic Landmark, making it eligible for federal grants. Meanwhile repairs on the fence and the deteriorating seawall are about to begin.
Source: Miami Today (20 May 2004)
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