The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, a gateway to roughly 165 acres of protected land that for decades has provided thousands of students every year with a unique hands-on nature learning experience, is raising money to help speed up clean-up post-Hurricane Irma.
"We had no power here for 34 days,” Theodora Long, the nature center’s executive director, said. “Kind of put us out of business for a whole month."
The nature center, located in Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park, is a partnership between the non-profit run by Long, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Miami-Dade’s Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department.
"It's the best-kept secret in town,” Long said.
While fallen trees have largely been cleared from pathways, two nature trails remain closed.
"Needs a little loving and attention so hopefully we'll be able to make a contribution to that,” Long said.
Long said the nonprofit has raised nearly half of its $20,000 goal. The money will benefit the agencies responsible for cleaning up the land to help them move faster in reopening the trails that are currently unsafe for children.
Hundreds of students from across visit the center daily, which has been around for decades, providing an out-of-classroom learning experience centered on the natural treasures of South Florida.
Long said nearly 30,000 students visit the center every year, which is open every day, to anyone.
"I think this is, like, one of the coolest field trips anyone can do, even at this age,” said Arianna Rodriguez, a sophomore at Coral Gables Senior High School, who first visited the center in fourth grade.
Rodriguez now wants to be a marine biologist.
"It was, like, an opening experience for someone like me who was curious about nature,” Rodriguez said. "We were supposed to do this awhile back and we had it pushed back because of the hurricane."
Work is still being done across Miami-Dade County to get parks cleaned up following Hurricane Irma.
"I think within the next three or four weeks, our parks, in terms of tree debris, vegetation should be cleared 100 percent,” said Jorge Mora, Assistant Director of Parks Stewardship Operations for the county’s Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department. “We still have to do repairs."
Long said the center’s main building wasn’t damaged by the storm.
Tours and other daily, interactive activities like catching fish in the shallow waters around Key Biscayne to study have since resumed.
"I would like to have it all up and going by like, you know, the holidays,” Long said. "Our perseverance really speaks to itself that we started off in a hot dog stand, moved to a trailer, now we have a building and we're educating thousands and thousands or millions of Miami-Dade students."
Donations can be made here: www.biscaynenaturecenter.org