$15 million needed to turn Camp Matecumbe into park

Camp Matecumbe
Camp Matecumbe
Winding road leads into Camp Matecumbe grounds off SW 120th Street.
[dropcap]A[/dropcap] plan transforming Camp Matecumbe into a community park with camping, a playground, picnic areas and an environmental educational center to enrich use of an adjoining rockland pine preserve lacks $15 million of the $21 million estimated to fully implement developments envisioned for the historic West Kendall site.

To date, a prioritized draw of $6 million from the Building Better Communities bond issue has expended only $740,000 to demolish several outdated buildings and begin infrastructure of a sewer system, far short of what is needed for large-scale Camp Matecumbe park and ecological facilities.

“Actually, $5,260,000 still remains from the 2004 bond issue draw to continue improvements,” said Angus Laney, manager of Parks and Recreation Capital Improvements for Miami-Dade Parks. “The gymnasium and office buildings are both planned for rehabilitation with current funding.”

A concept statement prepared in 2013 by the Planning and Research Division of Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department details facilities to create an “eco-friendly” neighborhood park and a regional “Eco-hub” focused on its neighboring rockland pine preserve.

Major Camp improvements include:

• A Greenhouse and Native Pine Rockland Restoration Garden to help visitors understand the unique 78-acre preserve that adjoins the site known as the Boystown Pineland Preserve;

• A Native Seedling Center for purchases of native plant material and restoration of native plants incorporated into the preserve;

• Educational programs to include community classes, children’s summer camps and educational research venues;

• A Learning Center and nature trail for community-sponsored classes and meetings;

• Shaded picnic areas, school-age playground equipment and open green space for active sports.

The new facilities also would include four cabins for overnight campers as well as a renovated mess hall/cafeteria with kitchen, concessions and a historical archive.

Interest in the camp project regenerated after a June 17 meeting in West Kendall when a county Charter Revision Committee sought citizen reaction for maintaining severely cut library services within unused county park buildings.

When more than 20 residents objected vigorously to any potential use of Camp Matecumbe structures, old or new, for any purpose, Alex Annunziato, aide to County Commissioner Esteban Bovo, who proposed the county plan, agreed the camp property would be excluded from any enabling legislation.

George Navarette, deputy director of Miami-Dade Parks, added at the same meeting, “There is no plan to put any library facility at Camp Matecumbe.”

The camp and adjacent Boystown Pineland preserve at 13841 SW 120 St. are surrounded largely on three sides by single family residential neighborhoods and a church campus with the southern edge bordered by Miami Executive Airport (formerly Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport).

“Development as a neighborhood park and ecological center there was designed to celebrate and enrich the property’s unique ecological environment and historical importance,” said Mark Heinicke, senior park planner of the Parks Department’s Planning and Research Division.

Both the Camp Matecumbe and Boys town Pineland sites have been modeled to embrace green practices and sustainable design principles, he noted. Environmentally friendly materials and methods are planned from the walkway and trails to the Learning Center and renovated gymnasium, both to be built with the highest rating in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation.

“These unique parcels of land can provide active and passive recreational facilities for hands-on educational and interpretive activities, and a place celebrating Operation Pedro Pan’s rich cultural and historical significance,” Heinicke added.

The Camp Matecumbe property holds significant cultural and historical importance, once serving unaccompanied Cuban youth as part of the “Operation Pedro Pan” flights with housing and education for those escaping the Castro regime in the 1960s.

The Archdiocese of Miami purchased the tract in 1955 to establish a summer youth camp with four cabins and a swimming pool, naming the site “Camp Matecumbe” after the only native American Indians in South Florida evangelized by Spanish missionaries. In July 1961, the Catholic Welfare Bureau began using the camp as one of its temporary shelters for 4,000 unaccompanied Cuban refugee boys. After consolidating that function with a Marine Corps facility at Opa-locka Airport, Camp Matecumbe was purchased in 1963 by the Parks and Recreation Department from the Archdiocese of Miami to become a public park.

In 1964, the facilities then began operating for indigent and neglected youth under the name “Boystown.”

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