Original pineland setting preserved at Sunkist Park

By Richard Yager….

Carla Ascensio-Savola and Ruben Arias admire palm-lined walkways at completed Sunkist Park.

For years, it was a native tropical pineland dead-ending both SW 64th Street and SW 84th Avenue in an older section of East Kendall’s Sunkist Estates.

When a hurricane came along, it suddenly became a dumping ground for piles of tree limbs, debris and post-storm trash.

“It had become an eyesore,” recalled Carla Ascensio-Savola, a former Community Council 12 chair.

With area neighbors, she decided more than a simple cleanup was needed for a “last vestige of a pineland preserve,” the original landscape for much of predeveloped Miami-Dade County.

While funding was not then available, Ascensio-Savola’s prodding, combined with cooperation of then-Miami-Dade District 7 Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, eventually set aside funds by 2009 to begin restoring the tiny 0.8-acre sized lot.

A stone marker now calls attention to the a pine rockland appearance, the tropical wildlife habitat residents say once included nesting eagles, recalled Ascenio-Savola, joining Sunkist residents for the park dedication on July 27.

Especially welcomed were recently elected Miami-Dade County Mayor Gimenez and Parks and Recreation director Jack Kardys, both of whom helped pave the way to transform and eyesore into an environmental treat for the eyes.

“I am very proud of this park, a result of neighborhood residents coming together for families and children to play, share stories and enjoy nature,” Gimenez said. “Sunkist Park also represents a vestige of pine rockland… and shows the value of landscaping our community.”

Amidst pines, sabal palms and other tropic plantings, the mini-park also features a new playground with boulder-like climbers, spring toys and swings for children, as well as a rubberized play surface for ADA accessibility. The play area was artfully surrounded by an ellipse-shaped concrete walkway with crushed stone cross-paths to add a more natural appearance.

“The entire park is planted with trees and plants that are native to a pine rockland, and park visitors can get an upclose look at these native plants as they use the walkways,” Kardys added.

Miami-Dade Parks’ design/build team and its Natural Areas Management (NAM) biologists worked with Miami landscape architect Leticia Fernandez- Beraud and biologists from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens on the project.

Development funding came from the Safe Neighborhood Park (SNP) Bond Program ($175,000), Quality Neighborhood Improvement Program ($175,000) and Impact Fees, effectively “building out the park without subsequent funding anticipated,” said Laura Phillips, Parks Department spokesperson.

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