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Columbus Day Regatta To Continue; No Boating in Biscayne National Park
The park is closed and trespassers could face fines

Posted Wednesday, October 9, 2013

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The 59th annual Columbus Day Regatta, a sailboat race, will begin off of Dinner Key on Saturday October 12, 2013. Although the Columbus Day Regatta originally ended in Biscayne National Park, seven years ago the race was rerouted to avoid entering the park. However, thousands of boaters continue to congregate in the park for increasingly rowdy parties not associated with the Columbus Day Regatta.

According to a report published yesterday by the Miami Herald, Biscayne National Park rangers — backed up by federal, state and local law enforcement officers — will ask boaters who stop and hang out to leave. Diving and snorkeling also are prohibited.

“If folks start showing up, we’ll encourage them to go someplace else,” Carlstrom told the Herald. “We’ll be monitoring the area around Elliott Key, where they raft up very closely. If you don’t leave, you are subject to fines. Bottom line: We don’t want people going out there hurting themselves or others as a result of theirs or others’ negligence.”

The Miami Herald reported that Carlstrom said officers will be patrolling the waters and stationed at Black Point and Homestead Bayfront marinas, which are gateways to the park, to inform boaters that the park is closed. He declined to say how many officers would be deployed to handle the anticipated crowds.

In a press release posted in late September, on the currently closed Biscayne National Park website, Park officials urged boaters to reconsider gathering in the park during Columbus Day Weekend (October 11-14) based on concerns for public safety and impacts to resources of national significance. "We welcome visitors to come and enjoy a weekend boating responsibly in the park," said Biscayne National Park Superintendent Brian Carlstrom. "However, boating, alcohol, and crowded conditions characteristic of the Columbus Day Weekend gatherings are a dangerous combination that threatens public safety."

In the last decade, six deaths and numerous injuries occurred in separate accidents over Columbus Day Weekend, the most dangerous boating weekend in the park. Park resources have sustained damage from vessel groundings and excessive litter. Water sampling in the anchorage area during the event detected fecal coliform bacteria not normally present. None of the samples collected indicated fecal coliform levels exceeding public health standards.

Officials from multiple local, state and federal agencies are again gearing up to enforce laws and provide emergency response during Columbus Day Weekend in Biscayne National Park. Agencies include: neighboring municipal police departments, Miami-Dade Police Department, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, US Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary, US Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine, and other national parks. Stepped-up enforcement will focus on boating under the influence, "rafting" of more than five vessels, excessively loud music, and illegal commercial activities. Structures at Stiltsville are closed to the general public and will be closely monitored. During Columbus Day Weekend, 2012, officials made over 200 cases at the gathering.

"With zero tolerance enforcement in place, fines in excess $5,000, and up to six months jail time, the price is high for failure to boat responsibly and abide by laws and regulations in the park," said Officer Wayne Rybeck, incident commander for the event. "The risk and liability associated with operating a boat and partying in a national park are substantial."

Those who wish to gather in the park over Columbus Day Weekend are encouraged to appoint a designated skipper, be alert for swimmers and boaters operating under the influence, avoid operating at night, maintain control of trash, obey laws and regulations, and respect their national park. More information and frequently asked questions for a Columbus Day Weekend visit to Biscayne National Park can be found at

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