Mountain & Trail News

    Columbus Day Weekend in Biscayne National Park – Recap

    Biscayne National Park came through the recent Columbus Day Weekend relatively unscathed this year. The weekend is traditionally one of the busiest and most dangerous of the year in the System’s largest marine park.

    An estimated 700-800 boats gathered in the clear shallow waters off Elliott Key beginning as early as Friday night. The park was enforcing its “Five Boat Rule,” which limits the maximum number of boats tied together, and requires a minimum of 100’ in between rafts of boats and individual, non-rafted boats. The separation allows for emergency access while at the same time decreasing interaction among attendees in the crowded anchorage.

    Wayne Rybeck, Incident Commander over the weekend, says that early enforcement and strong coordination among participating agencies are being credited with the fact that there were no deaths this year (six people have died at the event in the past 10 years), and few injuries. Over 200 law enforcement cases were made over the weekend. Notable incidents include:

    Twelve BUI  (Boating Under the Influence) arrests and multiple incidents of minors in possession of alcohol, public intoxication and disorderly conduct.

    Several drug seizures, including cocaine, Ecstasy, 10 pounds of marijuana and other illegal drugs. These seizures represent the largest drug haul in the history of Columbus Day Weekend in Biscayne National Park. A woman who was removed by helicopter after falling on her chin while pole dancing. A man at one of the marinas that empties into the park received CPR from Ranger Gretchen Messa after companions found him lying unconscious in the bottom of his boat. Paramedics eventually took over and sent the man off in an ambulance. He returned two hours later by taxi to rejoin the party. Other incidents include cases of unauthorized commercial operations, and multiple violations of the Five Boat Rule and excessively loud music.

    A multi-pronged public information campaign in the weeks leading up to the event included a heavy ranger presence at marinas to distribute information to boaters, a Facebook series on what is appropriate behavior in a national park, and tripling the presence of NPS staff at the annual news conference which was held IN the park this year rather than at the Coast Guard Station in Miami Beach. Large flashing traffic signs at two of the marinas summarized the regulations while boaters waited to launch. Staff searched the internet for commercial operators advertising trips into the party, and contacted the operators before they arrived.

    Another addition this year was a trial run of water quality testing. If the tests show increased levels of ammonia, fecal coliform and other indicators of water pollution, the park will seek to do additional testing next year.

    The park is indebted to the US Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary, Customs and Border Protection, the State Fish and Game Commission, Miami-Dade Police Department, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, and rangers from Everglades, Big Cypress, Canaveral  and Gulf Islands for their assistance in keeping the event under control and protecting park resources.

    More background on Columbus Day Weekend in Biscayne National Park is available on the park’s website at /bisc/planyourvisit/columbus-day-weekend.htm. For additional information about the park, visit For regular updates from the park, “like” us on Facebook at, or follow us on Twitter at

    Logo courtesy National Park Service

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