Grove’s Barnacle gives a glimpse into area’s lush surroundings, rich history

Posted November 13, 2019


The coolness of the evening air invited the idea of going to Barnacle State Park. To dive into the history of one of Coconut Grove’s most charming and influential pioneers, made for an inviting Sunday evening treat.  

“I chose to come to this park to learn about its rich history and to enjoy learning together with my girlfriend. I presumed it to be a nice hangout spot for the both of us, a place for accommodating its guest with picnic chairs and stables. The naturistic atmosphere is a personal touch of its own, along with many programmed activities throughout the months,” Christian Atale, a tourist from Chile, said.

Visitors relaxing on the porch of the Barnacle (Photos by Shanika Isaacs).

The Barnacle State Park, located off the Main Highway in Coconut Grove, is the park of choice for many tourists and locals in the area.

This 19th century attraction owned by Ralph Munroe, was known for being one of the oldest residences in the Miami-Dade County. The park offered the opportunity of revisiting “Old Florida,” a time in history long before modern Miami was developed.

The day’s adventure started at an old patio, that could very much be mistaken for an abandoned shed. The “Barnacle Historic State Park” sign is sure to great you, that led the pathway to the Barnacle.  As the pathway grew congested by the intertwining of trees on either side, the journey became very relaxing.

Much can be learnt about the park’s surrounding environment, in passing the many informative display boards stretched out along the path. The Strangler Fig, one of the passed trees, was said to cause no harm to humans themselves, but to other trees living in the wild.

A welcome sign of The Barnacle Historic State Park at the entrance.

The Strangler Fig, whom many of its competitors feared, received its “killer” name from the act of stifling its victims to death. This was done by positioning their roots in the same place as their victim’s and growing against their victim’s bark to its canopy. This, over time, cuts off the tree’s access to sunlight and moisture, which interrupted the process of photosynthesis.  

As the trail persisted deeper into the forest, you would first be greeted by someone directing in-flowing traffic.

“Tickets! Ticket!” she said, “Come and get your tickets here.”

By having the extract $2 for the entrance fee, it made the journey much easier than having to join a long line at the admissions office. The first sight on the property was the gift shop, that was some distance away from the woman selling tickets.

“We are here to educate people and guide them on the journey of wildlife. It is an incredible opportunity to get involved in an outdoor park to learn about its history, architecture and see how old it has become,” Giovawni Penagos, a senior park ranger, said.

He noted that many of the state park’s visitors were tourists who, alongside locals, had never set foot on park grounds. He explained the importance of being involved in the park’s monthly events and historic ventures, especially when understanding the role they played in the community.

“In my two years of working here, I never truly understood the appreciation of knowing about the local history, until I came to this state park. The Barnacle house is one of the oldest houses on a ship wreck salvage. The life Ralph Munroe lived was a sad starting story, but history has its hardships and that’s what makes it history,” Penagos said excitedly.

At the stroke of 2:30 p.m., Jim Stamps, a 500-hours-served volunteer, led the campus tour for the Barnacle.

The living room interior of Aspen Luxury Suites (Photo courtesy of Aspen Luxury Suites).

“Don’t be alarmed but we start out tours from the back door,” Stamps said with a smile on his face.

As he secured the door behind us, he led the way to the front of the property where he started his tale on the building’s porch. The atmosphere was just right for a historic adventure as Stamp aided his presentation with picture representations of Munroe’s life.

Not long after, two more visitors joined in, after which Stamps said, “I trust that you will pay the front office $3 for this tour. Only paid customers are allowed to be a part of this journey.”

Stamps led the way once again inside the Barnacle, starting with the living room to introduce Munroe’s family portraits and the role he played in the household.

“Ralph Munroe was an American yacht designer who grew up in New York. He was known for his drafting and engineering skills, that many witnessed from his yacht designs,” Stamps said.

There was much to see from the ancient décor and amenities, to the miniature sail boats that were actual representations of Munroe’s creations. It was the history of a house built in the 1800s, that clearly showed the growth of society and technology, into today’s modern society.

The tour ended with the boat house near Biscayne Bay. Stamps encouraged his participants to ponder on the things that were taught from the tour and relish in the wonders of the property by using its amenities to one’s advantage.

Owloween, an annually celebrated Halloween event, invited parents and their kids to take part in welcoming the owl of the moment. At only $2 per person and those under 6-year-old being free, this yearly event catered to the likes of crafts, games and stories.

“Do you want to touch the owl?” one of the park rangers said to the children that surrounded her.

Family pictures taken by Ralph Munroe in the living room of his house.

“We do a lot of historic events that connects our participants with nature. One of these events entails our yearly Owloween. What we do is book an owl for the event, that usually comes from the zoo. The idea is to have the owl be the center of our planned events of the evening,” Katrina Boler, park manager, said.

Boler conveyed that, in her 16 years of service to Barnacle Historic State Park, her intentions were to introduce a diversified program for both locals and tourists. She boasted that Florida State Parks received four national gold medals, all of which identified them as America’s first fourth-time winners.

“From September to May, we have the Barnacle Moonlight Carnival and we have the Haunted Ballet coming up. The dancers set out to do a haunted house performance, that sits well with the Halloween theme,” she said excitedly.

Boler shared that her largest crowds came on Sunday afternoons, or on special days that hosted events. She voiced how the entire park would transform into a representation of the event being hosted.

“Our crowds are always huge during a special event and as a staff personnel I can vouch on how much we all appreciate that. Barnacle State Park is filled with lots of surprises and has a vast history for many to explore. I believe we can all be one with nature and learn to enjoy the wonders of what the park has to offer,” she said.

If You Go