Dade County, at the Southern tip of the Florida peninsula, is home to 2.1 million people. The natural boarders of the Atlantic Ocean on the east and Everglades National Park to the west limit residential expansion. At the same time, rapid urbanization has resulted in the loss of 98.4% of native forest area. In 1986, a group of parents, teachers and children, began building a native tropical forest, called the hammock, in a barren section of the Kenwood Elementary School grounds. From the beginning, the intent of the Kenwoods Learning Center has been to create a laboratory to foster appreciation of Florida's native plant heritage.
Kenwoods Learning Center is amply fulfilling its mission. Teachers routinely use the hammock as a curriculum resource. Students, parents, and friends participate in workdays four or five times a year in which they plant new trees, mulch, clean up trash and remove invasive plants. As they do, they learn in a hands-on fashion the difficulties and joys of caring for their own forest. Two picnics every year typically include "adult time" with talks by native tree experts, landscape designers or tree pruning specialists. A guidebook helps schools, families, and visitors learn about the project's history and scope. Volunteers are producing a videotape series on various aspects of the Learning Center for the school's closed circuit TV system. Additionally, in the future, a butterfly garden in the school's main courtyard will provide a new educational aspect.
The larger community is also benefiting. This project has served as a model for similar projects at numerous other schools. Many school groups have visited the center. It has served as a demonstration project for community college native plant landscape classes. It has hosted the Native Plant Society's annual conference. Scouts have successfully fulfilled nature and public service requirements at the center. Neighbors have landscaped their homes using native trees due to the knowledge they obtained at the center. Additionally, the site has become a favorite bird-watching observation post for Tropical Audubon Society members.