|Pioneer Environmentalist Remembered|
|Written by Janet Goodman, BT Contributor|
Coconut Grove park is a tribute to Marjory Stoneman Douglas
This November will be the 70th anniversary of the publication of a classic in environmental literature, The Everglades: River of Grass.
Its creator was writer, community activist, and world-renowned environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Her book tells the history of the Everglades, explains the importance of the conservation of this unique ecosystem, and describes it as a life-sustaining river for South Florida and its Biscayne Aquifer, which is our primary drinking water source.
Four weeks after its publication in 1947, President Truman dedicated Everglades National Park, but that was just the beginning of Douglas’s long battle to restore and preserve this and other Florida wetlands from developers wanting to drain the swamps. She went on to found the Friends of the Everglades in 1969, to advocate against construction of the world’s largest airport in Big Cypress Swamp, and to fight the Lake Okeechobee-polluting Big Sugar coalition, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers for its system of canals built in South Florida.
Former Gov. Lawton Chiles called Douglas “a pioneer of the environmental movement and a prophet calling out to us to save the environment for our children and grandchildren.”
Douglas first came to Florida in 1915 to work for her father, Frank Stoneman, who served as editor-in-chief of the Miami Herald. She was a columnist and assistant editor until 1923, continued writing as a freelancer for such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post, and wrote short stories, stage plays, and books.
Though she stood only 5 feet 2 inches, she was a larger-than-life, no-nonsense feminist advocating for nature. “It is a woman’s business to be interested in the environment,” she once said, adding, “It’s an extended form of housekeeping.” This “woman’s business” kept her going strong to the age of 108.
Honored many times for her tireless work in South Florida, the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient’s Coconut Grove home, in which she lived from 1926 to her death in 1997, and where she wrote River of Grass, was declared a National Historic Landmark by President Barak Obama on Earth Day 2015. Located at 3744 Stewart Ave., just off of S. Douglas Road, the wood-and-stucco bungalow was allowed to deteriorate after her death, according to Miami Herald reports, by the private, nonprofit Land Trust of Miami-Dade County, which held the lease from 1999 to 2007.
Local environmentalist Juanita Greene, conservation chairwoman of the Friends of the Everglades in 2006, led the movement to keep the house from being dismantled and moved out of the Grove to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Coral Cables. The house was taken over by the Florida Division of Recreation and Parks in 2007. Donations plus $50,000 worth of state improvements restored the home, and it has become a limited-access museum.
Parks, buildings, and schools have been named or rededicated in Douglas’s honor: a Broward County high school; a Miami-Dade elementary school; the nature center at Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park; Marjory Stoneman Douglas Ocean Beach Park in Miami Beach; Marjory Stoneman Douglas Everglades Habitat in Wellington; and the 1.3 million-acre Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness Area in Everglades National Park, where her cremated ashes were scattered after her death.
Not far from her historic landmark home is a tiny greenspace at 2901 SW 22nd Ave. in the Grove. Acquired by the City of Miami in 1924, Silver Bluff Mini Park was renamed Marjory Stoneman Douglas Mini Park in 1984, in honor of her distinguished service to the community.
Since then, park improvements made in 2016 have buffed this 0.47-acre gem to its full shine potential, making it worthy of the beloved environmentalist’s name.
New playground equipment is painted in eco-friendly shades of green -- lime, olive, forest, pea soup, and Kelly green -- allowing these amenities to blend in with the surrounding nature. A handicap-accessible swing set, two playgrounds, and canvas shade canopies, as well as three weather-resistant benches and attractive metal trash bins (not the usual City of Miami Parks-issue Rubbermaid clunkers), all are somewhat camouflaged by their color.
Each play area is situated on new rubberized safety surfaces that can be accessed off of the upgraded-to-code, meandering cement walkways. Improvements cost Miami $216,558 for their design and construction. On a Saturday afternoon visit by the BT, a dozen kids and their parents enjoyed the refurbished park.
One carryover from the “old” park? The hand-me-down children’s toys that are scattered about. Recycled tricycles, scooters, Little Tikes vehicles, dump trucks, earthmovers -- even a vintage Radio Flyer tricycle with handlebar streamers -- have been donated by locals whose kids have outgrown them.
There is one water fountain, and the lone pet waste station had no receptacle and no bags. A sign at the park’s entrance warns: “No dogs on children playground.” But the park remains dog-friendly (meaning, dogs are allowed on-leash only).
Glued mulch surrounds the roots of majestic banyans that provide plenty of shade for three picnic tables. Another picnic area is set up on fresh sod in the east section of the park, where 24 Christmas palms stand along the perimeter chain-link fence. Hibiscus and mango have been planted at the northern edge’s eight-foot concrete wall; an oak tree keeps the little northeast playground cool, and green metal park fencing runs parallel to SW 22nd Avenue.
Those big banyans at the west entrance could be considered the park’s third playground for kids. Just ask John Logan Gelety, age seven and a half, who was busy shooting an instructional video on how to climb a banyan tree. From a foothold high up on a meaty branch, he directed his mother, Monique, below, who was doing the filming and would eventually post her son’s six-minute video on social media.
As he climbed and explained his technique to online viewers, sounds of nearby church bells gently flowed through the park, making the moment like a little bit of heaven. One could imagine Marjory looking down on her namesake and being pleased.
Volume 15, Issue 2, April 2017
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