By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – The thought of Miami Beach may not conjure images of peaceful nature, but the Miami-Dade Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces offers a variety of naturalist-led eco-adventures to residents and visitors in nearby Key Biscayne.
The tranquil island paradise of Key Biscayne, located just five minutes from downtown Miami, is the setting for a wide range of tours – with hammock walks, kayak, snorkel and canoe trips, and bike trips for all age groups and skill levels.
Canoe trips are popular – and there seems to be one for every conceivable interest – along the Coral Gables Waterway, at sunrise, sunset or by moonlight, along the historic Oleta River and through the hidden waterways of Key Biscayne.
Sea turtle release programs take place on coastal beaches from Key Biscayne to Sunny Isles, with educational opportunities focused at Crandon and Haulover Parks during the height of the April through September hatching season.
The Key Biscayne Nature Center, housed in a beautiful building at Crandon Park, offers a year-round program of aquatic and land-based adventures. At the tip of Key Biscayne, more snorkeling, fishing and nature walks are on tap at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, frequently listed among the top ten beaches in America.
Dragonfly Expeditions offers nature lovers the chance to experience one of the world’s most beautiful and threatened wild places in a unique and personal way on its “Everglades Backwater Tour.” Trained field biologists and naturalist guides lead guests through this enchanting ecosystem, teaching about the flora and fauna surrounding as they wade through the clear waters – something very few travelers experience.
They also offer the “Great Discoveries on the Bay: A Kayak Journey” tour, where guests paddle along the exquisite coastline of Biscayne Bay and observe wildlife as they experience the feeling of walking on a sandbar. They can also journey into an inlet created by mangroves that is teeming with life, while they learn about the history and ecology of the area.
For those seeking a tamer walk on the wild side, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden offers themed walking tours on weekends, on topics ranging from Biodiverstiy and the Rainforest to Butterfly gardening, biding and more. Guests will have the opportunity to explore Fairchild’s plant collections up close and personal with the guidance of experts.
Also on weekends, guests can take part in the “Butterflies and their Host Plants” guided walking tour, where they can search for 45 butterfly species in the garden and identify the larval host plants and nectar plants which draw them.