Once the home for youngsters fleeing Castro’s Cuba, West Kendall’s Camp Matecumbe began a new role on Mar. 14.
For four hours, now-graying adults, who as children once took historic Pedro Pan flights to freedom, joined hundreds of Kendall residents for a “Field Day at the Park.”
The midday event was co-organized by Miami-Dade District 11 Commissioner Juan Zapata in partnership with State Sen. Anitere Flores, State Rep. Jeanette Nunez, HistoryMiami, Operation Pedro Pan, and EEL (Environmentally Endangered Lands) division.
The Camp was purchased from the Catholic Diocese of Miami-Dade County by Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation Department in 1963, later becoming the “Boystown” school for indigent youth in its cluster of mid- 1950s styled classroom buildings.
“I can remember coming here to go to church in the auditorium,” said Eileen Harris, Devon Aire resident and parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church at SW 147th Avenue and 112th Street.
The first mass for the church was held in July 1985 “in what was then known as the ‘Boystown Chapel,’” she recalled. “Later, we moved into the auditorium for services as the parish grew. That was well before the new church Parish Hall opened the new church site just west of the Camp.”
Once active in Hialeah as a job counselor, Harris said she came to the Field Day to chat and reminisce with Pedro Pan veterans, recalling the early days of both the Camp and Boystown periods. “The girls went to Florida City,” she added.
The auditorium housed pictures and memorabilia from Pedro Pan days. Satellite buildings are now used for weekday children’s disability programs with after-school care and Saturday events.
Since early February, crews have been working daily to help clean the grounds and prepare for future uses as a public park area, focused on its adjoining 78-acre pine rockland preserve. Tours of the preserve were offered by the EEL under a banner “Habitat Restoration in Progress.”
Salofi Nua of Country Walk thought it was “great just looking around and enjoying the day.” He was pushing a carriage with daughter Bella, 22 months, and walking alongside his other two children, Lelia and Jonathan, while wife and mom, Jessica, worked a nursing shift at Kendall’s Baptist Hospital.
For family fun, there was a bounce house, games, prizes and food truck snacking while others studied placards for future planning under a $15 million budget designed to turn Camp Matecumbe into a combination playground and park, focused on education about pine rocklands.
Eventually, Camp Matecumbe is designed to become an “eco-friendly” neighborhood park with a regionally focused “Eco-hub” to include a Greenhouse and Native Pine Rockland Restoration Garden, camping facilities, playground, picnic areas and an environmental educational center.
A prioritized draw of $6 million from the Building Better Communities bond issue has expended $740,000 to demolish several outdated buildings and begin infrastructure of a sewer system.
Future improvements were described by Mark Heinicke, park planner, who answered questions and managed a display of West Kendall park facilities in design stages, including the West Kendall District Park south of The Hammocks area.