Art Yerian, remembered as a man who nurtured nature all his life and who managed some of Florida’s most popular state parks, died January 21, his family said. He was 65.
A sunset celebration of his life has been set at Bill Baggs Cape Florida park on Feb. 1 from 4:30 p.m to 7 p.m, at the Cleat adjacent to No Name Harbor.
Yerian was born in 1956 in Canton, Ohio, where a childhood auto accident cut short a college education but led to his opening a pet shop, his wife Liz said. It set a path that would ultimately lead him away from the nation’s heartland to a 25-year career in the Florida Park Service.
His tenure included posts as the manager of Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park on Florida’s west coast. Later, he was promoted to assistant bureau chief for District 5 covering South Florida. He had been manager of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park since 2015. The 400-acre park drew more than 406,000 visitors in 2020, state figures showed.
“The entire Florida Park Service is saddened by Art’s passing,” said Chuck Hatcher, acting director of Florida State Parks. “Art was an incredible park professional, but, more than that, he was a friend and mentor to so many. We will miss him very much.”
Yerian is also survived by a sister, Lisa, and children Amanda, Cassidy, and Jaden.
Key Biscayne Mayor Mike Davey praised him as a “special guy” who served the Key Biscayne community.
“Art was always looking for ways to help and work with our Village. He worked hard to create a real sense of community.”
Yerian also served as chair of the Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce. Community members raised $26,000 in a Go Fund Me campaign last year after he suffered a heart attack.
Liz Yerian said her husband would like to be remembered as a family man who was devoted to giving back to the community.
“He loved to inspire people. He was the type of leader who didn’t tell — he showed people what to do, and then did it with them.” She said he often worked at the park at night, cleaning areas and responding to all kinds of calls, including not infrequent arrivals of Cuban migrants on the park’s shoreline.
She recalled meeting him in 1989 while both were working at Cypress Gardens. A four-foot alligator had snuck into the aviary, preying on water fowl. She said she surprised him by capturing the alligator with a net and presenting it to him.
“That turned his head,” she recalled, laughing.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.