MIM Ineffable Miami: Country Walk by Michelle Munio

biography

Photo of author, CC by 4.0

My name is Michelle Taylor Munio, and I am a junior at Florida International University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in Chemistry. Following my graduation in spring 2021, I plan on attending medical school to become a physician and achieve the ultimate goal of helping others to my greatest capability each and every day. I was born and raised in Miami, and absolutely love my city. From the weather, to the diverse people and food, and the fun events, I am excited to learn more about my home town and gain a different perspective through an academic perspective.

The heart of Country Walk, photo by Michelle Munio C.C. by 4.0

geography

Country Walk is a residential community located in southwest Miami Dade county in Florida, United States. Upon entering Country Walk, there are many homes, and in the center there is a club house with a pool, jacuzzi, tennis and volleyball courts, and a huge park with a picturesque lake. There are other commercial establishments located within this community such as small eateries and family-owned businesses, as well as well-known businesses such as CVS and Publix. Located in this community is an elementary school, and magnet schools for junior high and high school are very close in proximity as well. This suburb is a 40 minute drive to Miami Beach (30 miles north), 45 minute drive to Key Biscayne (34 miles east), and a 30 minute drive to Homestead (15 miles south).


Photo retrieved from U.S. Census Buereau, CCo by 1.0

One of the best memories I have growing up is riding bike with my family and neighbors along a wavy bike path to the park and having lunch under the gazebo. Greenery surrounds you through out the path, and the fresh breeze will make anyone feel closer to nature. Residents like me enjoy this open space to bring their pets to play, have a picnic with friends, do some exercise or fishing, or simply enjoy the view of the fountain.

history


Photo of Country Walk lake at sunset, by Michelle Munio, CC by 4.0

Country walk is a resident community located in Southwest Miami-Dade Country. It was originally designed and built by Arvida/Disney Corporation in 1978, with construction eventually ending in 1994. Country walk is made up of six sub-associations: Country Villas, Estate homes, Lakeside, Patio Homes, Village Homes, Stoneybrook and one Master Association in the center which is where the clubhouse and recreational areas (mentioned in Geography) are located. This adds up to a total of 1,606 homes in this community! There are two commercial shopping centers in this area- The Country Square Shopping Center right next to the clubhouse, and Country Walk Plaza located on 152nd Street and 137th Avenue. There are many businesses such as restaurants, pharmacies, child/adult care and banks here, allowing residents to not have to travel far for essential and non-essential goods.

Like any neighborhood, there are none that have a perfect history. The Country Walk case is an infamous “multi-victim, multi-offender” case that I had never heard about but learned while researching about my community. This was during the day-care sex-abuse hysteria that occurred during the 1980s. The 1984 scandalous case involved childcare workers, Frank and his immigrant wife Ileana Fuster, who were accused of sexually molesting and physically abusing children in their small day-care business in Country Walk. This was one of the most widely- publicized child abuse cases in U.S. history, since such an affluent neighborhood faced such disturbing evidence. Ultimately more than 20 children reported this abuse, and both individuals were sentenced to many decades in prison.  The couple maintained their innocence for years, the wife only confessing and testifying against her husband in return for a smaller sentence. A few years later, the entire case was being ridiculed because video tapes emerged in which the interviews with children were very “leading and suggestive” and Janet Reno, the prosecutor behaving unethically during the persecution which tampered credibility of the evidence. Illeana Fuster was eventually released from prison after only 3 years and was immediately deported back to her home-country Honduras. Frank Fuster continues to maintain his innocence to this day while serving his 165-year sentence.

Another historical event that significantly impacted the Country Walk community was Hurricane Andrew in 1992. This category 5 hurricane destroyed a plethora of neighborhoods throughout Miami, but this residential area faced one of the catastrophic effects.  About 95% of the homes were destroyed, which were gradually rebuilt in subsequent years with a much stronger structure.  


The aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in the Miami Area,  CCo by 1.0

Luckily my family moved into our home after these infamous events, and the Country Walk community persevered through these hardships. It developed into my home- a place loved by thousands of families, all preserving the caring and progressive attitude of the community.

demographics


Entrance on Country Walk, FL. Photo by Michelle Munio, CC by 4.0

As of the 2010 U.S. Census, Country Walk houses approximately 16,000 people, with 6,202 people as the average population per square miles. The land area is about 2.8 square miles. About 52% of individuals are female, 26% of people are under 18 years old, and about 10% are people 65 years old or over. Similar to many of Miami neighborhoods, there is a huge Latino influence in Country Walk. The majority of residents (72.1%) are of Hispanic origin, with white alone only making up 18.3% of the community. This is understandable considering Country Walk is made up of 46.7% foreign born persons and since 73% of homes speak languages other than English at home.

As for education and income, about 93% of residents are a high school graduate or higher and about 32% have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median household income is about $79,167,with about 9% of people living in poverty.

Interview with Juan Rodriguez, a long-time neighbor and friend

Juan Rodriguez is a neighbor I had growing up. My siblings and I would hang out with him almost every day, especially in the summer. Eventually him and his family moved out, but we still remain friends and I contacted him for this brief interview.

Question 1: What was your favorite thing about Country Walk?

            Juan: My favorite thing about this neighborhood is definitely its people. It was always easy for me to make friends in our neighborhood because everyone was so nice and caring even when we really didn’t know each other well. There are always kids playing outside or families/couples going on walks. Even the restaurants around are very family-oriented and always make me feel at home.

Question 2: What is your least favorite thing about Country Walk?

            Juan: Definitley the traffic. The mornings and rush hour were the absolute worst! Sometimes it would take half an hour just to enter or get out of the neighborhood. So many people live here!

Question 3: How do you think Country Walk has changed since growing up here as a young child?

            Juan: the biggest change has to be the new restaurants and businesses that have opened up throughout the years. Barely any places are still up and running from when I used to live here! It’s like every time I visit there is something new. Not bad, just different.

Question 3: How is Country Walk different from the neighborhood you moved into afterwards?

            Juan: I may be biased, but I feel like Country Walk had more friendly people. Even if we were strangers, our neighbors would still offer a helping hand, and would always greet us. In my community it’s like everyone just drives in and goes straight to their house, which is fine I guess since that’s the purpose… but I have been here for about 4 years and have yet to know my neighbors’ names. Barely anyone goes outside too.

landmarks

An animal lover’s dream: Zoo Miami & ZWF Miami


The Sumatran Tiger photographed by Clement Bardot at Zoo Miami, Florida (2015) CC by SA 4.0 (license: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)
 

The location of my neighborhood is probably one of my favorite things about it. There are many fun places close by that make it pretty difficult to get bored. One of the most popular landmarks that is a literal 5-minute drive east from Country Walk is Zoo Miami. It’s pretty cool to know that the largest zoo in Florida- a home to over 3,000 animals, is walking distance from me. On the west, there is another animal facililaty, the Zoological Wildlife Foundation (ZWF) Miami that not only allows visitors to observe animals but participate in wildlife tours and interactions as well. I have yet to visit this venue but have been recommended by countless friends to pay a visit to this appointment-only zoo since they offer intimate experiences with wildlife as well as hands-on interactions.

Gold Coast Railroad Museum

For a more historical venue, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum is right next to Zoo Miami and offers a historical perspective of the area. This is a non-profit organization free to the public as a  serving as a preservation of railroad history. For $12.00, visitors can aboard a 25-minute ride on a vintage locomotive for a unique experience. Keep in mind that this venue also hosts year-round events so availability of tours and train rides may be subjected to change. 


One of the vintage locomotives at Gold Coast Railroad Museum, 2008. Photo by Micha L. Rieser CC by 4.0.

green


Photo by Michelle Munio, CC by 4.0

Despite Country Walk being suburban, greenery encompasses the community. As mentioned in Geography, my favorite green space to visit is Country Walk Lake, where a large path surrounds a tranquil lake. The peaceful park is the perfect place to relax, think, exercise or host a picnic. If you don’t live here, you probably would not know about it as it is pretty discrete compared to the other nearby parks. Nonetheless the park is still accessible by driving, although biking or rollerblading grants a more enjoyable adventure.


Photo of Country Walk lake by Michelle Munio, C.C. by 4.0.

There are 2 other parks very close to Country Walk that are worth mentioning. King’s Grant Park is a modest park that has a large field and play ground. When I was younger, the playground was new and the grass was always pristine. This was my favorite park to go to with my childhood friend, and we would make up games in the play-ground and enjoy our time there as long as possible before our parents wanted to go back home. Now I pass this park almost every day when I drive home and it seems to have lost its glamour. Maybe because the strong Florida sun has worn it down over the years, or because it is more tailored for young children.

Chuck Pezoldt park is relatively new compared to the others mentioned previously. This park is located in an open area on 165th Street and 157th Avenue. Although Kings Grant Park carries sentimental meaning to me, Chuck Pezoldt park is preferred as it has an immense field surrounded by a mile-long circular path, a sheltered playground, and a couple basketball courts. Many nearby residents enjoy working out here, since the space is so large and green it allows for a delightful view and enjoyable breeze. 

transportation


Photo by Michelle Munio, CC by 4.0

There are numerous bus stops in and around Country Walk for public transportation. Senior residents most commonly use this mode of transportation for convenient travel throughout the city. For more far travel, there are 3 Amtrak train stations and one airport (Miami International) within 30 miles of the city center. For work commutes, only about 2% of employees use public transportation to get to work, with most people driving solo. This is probably the case because public buses only pick-up and drop-off outside of small communities or the nrighborhood outskirts, so people would have to walk a fairly long distance in the beaming sun to get to a stop. For the most part, homes in the neighborhood have at least 2 cars per driveway. The average time for a one-way commute from Country Walk is 38 minutes, which is relatively long compared to the state’s average one-way commute being 27 minutes. From personal experience, getting out of the trafficked neighborhood seems to be the longest part of my commutess

Food


Mamma Mia pizza, one of the best pizzerias in town! Photo by Michelle Munio, CC by 4.0

Country Walk is filled with very well-known eateries as well as authentic local restaurants, catering to anyone’s craving. Like every other neighborhood, there are a handful of fast-food places located a few minutes away. For more authentic restaurants, 2 of my favorite places are located within Country Walk Plaza. Mamma mia is a family-owned pizzeria that has been opened for as long as I can remember. Their enormous pizzas are my absolute favorite, with an authentic taste you can’t get elsewhere. Whenever me, my family or friends are craving pizza, this is our go-to. If you’re craving burgers, Mooyah! is located in the same shopping center and has a variety of mouth-watering burgers (including vegetarian, keto, low-cal and paleo versions). They  also have indulgent shakes and perfectly seasoned fries to leave your stomach full and happy. I have so many fun memories at Mooyah!, as I used to eat there with my friends after school all the time.


A portrait of a lunch date with my mother Cristina Paredes at Mooyah!, Michelle Munio, CC by 4.0

For authentic Latin food, a Colombian restaurant in a plaza named Coral Reef Village is the place to  go. Panaderia 20 De Julio is a family-owned business that serves fresh and tasty breads, snacks, meals, juices and more. For snacks, their pan de bonos (sweet bread with cheese inside) and arepas (sweet corn bread with white cheese) are my favorite. You also can’t go wrong with their mouth-watering meals; they serve huge plates of steak, rice, beans, sweet plantains and more for a reasonable price. This restaurant is kind of like a hole-in-the-wall, it is not that well-known, but those who know about it go very frequently. Fun fact, I took my friend here one time and it turns out the owners are her neighbors! Safe to say I have never had a friend who I took here that did not love their food.

Top: traditional arepa served with a side of chicharones (fried pork rinds) and ‘Colombiana’ drink. Bottom is a typical Colombian meal called bandeja de paisa, which contains scrambled eggs, rice with beans and steak. Photo by Angelica Gomez, CC by 4.0

businesses

Growing up, I remember many local businesses in these plazas like day cares, a small pizza shop and ice cream parlor. As time went on many of these stores closed down, including Hollywood Videos and Blockbuster which left a fond memory I had with my family of searching for interesting movies and candy to take home for a fun move night. Only a handful of businesses that I often went to as a little girl remain open today, the others being replaced by franchises, banks, national chains, etc.


The go-to dry cleaners for many Country Walk residents!  Photo by Michelle Munio, CC by 4.0

Located in the same shopping center that has my favorite pizza are 2 other local businesses that are essential for me. The first is a relatively new shop, called Classis Eyebrow Threading, and they do an amazing job at keeping your eyebrows perfect. I’m so appreciative that this salon opened up because there is not another eyebrow or waxing salon nearby, and the employees are very professional and skillful. Right next to it is a beauty salon called Country Nail & Spa. This is another local business that has been opened for years- and I have never had a problem with their work. Employees are very neat, caring and professional. Finally, I have to mention another essential business located in a shopping center adjacent to the Country Walk lake.  The family-owned business is name Home Town Cleaners, and they are very friendly and informative. It’s my go-to dry cleaners for several reasons: not only is it a 2-minute drive away, the employees are extremely kind, the prices are reasonable, and an excellent job is always done in a practical time frame. My clothes literally look brand new when I get them back!

Summary

Country Walk is a booming neighborhood, rich in spirit and excitement. Thousands of people live in this expanding area, so you can expect businesses and restaurants catered to every body’s need. The location is perfect- there are fun-filled landmarks and a plethora of well-kept outdoor parks that are nearby and available at your fingertips. Although public buses are available, most people commute with their cars, making traffic prevalent in this area. There is a huge Latino influence, and the diversity and history in the community has given Country Walk a lot of character. This neighborhood is filled with people of all ages and has been the place where a lot of people like me have grown up. The community in which we had unforgettable dinners with our family and friends, the place where we first learned how to bike ride and drive, the place where we developed traditions, and most importantly, the place that we get to call home.

works cited

Areavibes. “Country Walk, FL Transportation.” Country Walk, FL Transit – Public Transportation, Amtrak Train Stations & Airports, AreaVibes Inc., 2016, http://www.areavibes.com/country walk-fl/transportation/.

Country Walk Board of Directors. “About Country Walk.” Country Walk – Master Association – About Country Walk, Cymagination, 2005, http://www.countrywalkhoa.org/master_association_about_country_walk.html.

Flanary, Tom. Gold Coast Railroad Museum – Coach, Cab, Link, 2012, web.archive.org/web/20140221190211/gcrm.org/index.php/train-rides/coach-cab-link.

Nathan, Debbie. “The Public Was Shocked. Country Walk Parents Demanded Action. An Election Was near. Janet Reno Was Going to Send Someone to Jail. No Matter What.” Miami New Times, 4, 22 Feb. 2017, http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/the-public-was-shocked-country-walk-parents-demanded-action-an-election-was-near-janet-reno-was-going-to-send-someone-to-jail-no-matter-what-6364629.

Robertson, Linda. “Country Walk, Obliterated by Andrew, Girds for Hurricane Irma with Sturdier Homes.” Miamiherald, Miami Herald, 9 Sept. 2017, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/weather/hurricane/article172285552.html.

U.S. Census Bureau. “U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Country Walk CDP, Florida.” Census Bureau QuickFacts, 2010, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/countrywalkcdpflorida/RHI725218#qf-flag-X.

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