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Eco-history tours focus on plants, animals

Historical Museum of Southern Florida’s eco-history tours recently featured Miami Beach. Next up: Oleta River.

BY RODOLFO R. ROMAN
Special to The Miami Herald
About twice a week, Pinecrest pilot Peter McCook flies his light small aircraft over South Beach admiring the bird’s-eye view of the sand and clear blue water.

“It is stunning,” he said. “We have all of this next to our house.”

On a recent Sunday, McCook traded his aircraft for sneakers for a more in-depth look at the area he usually admires from above.

He took an eco-history walking tour of Miami Beach, part of a series of similar tours throughout the tri-county area presented by the Historical Museum of Southern Florida.

The next installment of the series, a boat tour of the Oleta River, takes place Sunday.

McCook joined a group who listened to the museum’s eco-history manager, Frank Schena, throughout the 40-block journey on Miami Beach’s boardwalk.

Schena spoke about the area’s history — but with an environmental and ecological angle — on the two-hour tour.

“I want people to know that South Florida has an amazing natural environment,” he said on the Feb. 28 tour. “Theyaren’t all gone. They still exist.”

The Historical Museum of Southern Florida ecological historical tourseason runs through April.

On the Miami Beach tour, Schena, who is from Massachusetts, walked with the group, pointingat wildlife and plantlife along the way — like a red-bellied woodpecker on a sabal palm tree.

The group was impressed — and didn’t hesitate to pull out their cameras to take a picture of the loggerhead shrike , a carnivorous bird that paid a visit.

Schena, who has lived in Miami since 1991, also highlighted wildlife that once called Miami Beach home — like the gopher tortoise, which was a popular dish for early pioneers.

The reptile can now only be found north of Jupiter, he said.

“Miami Beach is more than about beautiful beaches and women,” he said. “There is interesting wildlife on this beach.”

The museum’s adult program manager, Susan Johnson, said the tours draw locals and tourists.

“It gives people an opportunity to get to know your community,” she said. “You can’t know your community without knowing something about its history.”

Johnson said tour lovers will discover several familiar South Florida spots.

“You get to come to places you pass by every day, but you didn’t know they exist,” she said.

McCook said the tour is more than an education.

“To learn something beyond your life is interesting and enriching for your experience of life,” he said.

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