County rule keeps rocketry clubs out of public parks

Homestead Public Rocketry Club hopes to return to Homestead Air Reserve Park

By Layron Livingston - Reporter

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - The Homestead Public Rocketry Club  has been blasting rockets off in Miami-Dade County for seven years.

Sergio Cruz, a member of the club, said reading about aviation history is one of his favorite pastimes. He has rockets and planes all over his room. 

Cruz still has a model of a Saturn V rocket, the rocket that sent up Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. He has launched it before. He said it has traveled as high as 300 feet.

"Seeing little kids, their faces, when the rocket launches off, and it makes a lot of noise, a lot of smoke, it inspires them," Cruz said.

When Cruz was a Homestead Senior High School student, he and a friend founded the Rocketry Club on July 20, 2011 -- the same day a rocket launched the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969. 

Cruz is a card-carrying member of the National Association of Rocketry. He said his club is the only one of its kind in Miami-Dade County, and for seven years, he and other members have gathered at Homestead Air Reserve Park to launch their rockets.

"The main thing for us is open space," Cruz, now 24, said. 

Cruz said the group has hosted launches for Cub Scout groups and the Civil Air Patrol. He also said NASA scientists and engineers have dropped in to visit the club. A few weeks ago, Cruz said the park manager called him and told him he and the club could no longer launch their rockets from the park.

“We're grounded," Cruz said.  

The Leave it to Layron team contacted the county’s parks and recreation department and a spokesperson responded. 

"The safety of our patrons is a priority for the parks department," the statement said. "Our rules and regulations are in place to provide measures that protect the wellbeing of park users."

The statement cited the department's rule 19 from the county"s code of ordinances, which says no one can "explode, discharge or burn" in any park area any rockets using explosives "unless he first obtains a written permit from the department director."

Cruz said the Rocketry Club has never experienced any accidents or injuries during their gatherings. In fact, he said the club follows the NAR's strict safety rules and guidelines

The county spokesperson said the department director could make a concession and allow the club to fly again, but Cruz is required to complete a special event permit, which may require him to have fire safety and medics available in the event of an accident.    

In an unexpected turn, the county’s spokesperson had a question for the Leave it to Layron team. They wanted the contact information for Cruz to discuss the possibility of forming a partnership that would allow the Rocketry Club to remain active at the park for many years to come.

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