Known for its nightlife, delicious food, and incredible beaches, Miami-Dade County is home to more than 2.5 million people. One of the area’s defining features is the fact that it is bound by two national parks, Biscayne to the east and the Everglades to the west.
Even though these amazing, biodiverse natural areas sit only a few miles from Miami, the sad truth is that many local youth do not get the chance to experience the rich history and recreational opportunities in these parks. They are often trapped in a concrete jungle while tourists from all over the world enjoy the wonders in their own backyard.
This spring, NPCA partnered with the Batchelor Foundation and the Mahogany Youth Corporation to change that for 25 young African Americans from urban Miami. The inspiration for the trip was a new holiday celebrating one of these parks. Last year, NPCA worked hard to urge the Florida legislature to designate April 7 as Everglades Day throughout the state. What better way to kick off the first-ever Everglades Day than by bringing an eager group of students out to this world-class park and encouraging a new generation of budding park advocates?
The Mahogany Youth Corporation is a local non-profit organization dedicated to empowering youth to expand their horizons by developing skills that enhance their self-esteem and encourage them to enjoy the outdoors, while also emphasizing the importance of staying off of drugs, in school, and out of gangs. The organization brought youth from urban Miami to meet with staff from NPCA to fish along the Tamiami Trail, a one-mile bridge that was recently restored to allow needed water to flow into the park. The kids then engaged in a friendly competition to see who could catch the first, the most, and the biggest fish. Here is how one participant, Erica, described it:
Everyone was excited about the biggest fishing trip of the year. … The best part of the trip was when I caught a fish. My fish was the biggest fish! No one had a fish bigger than mine. I was so proud of myself. … Because I caught the biggest fish, I was given an award. I was amazed and shocked that I won this award. I thought that one of the boys would earn the award. Even though the goal of the trip was to learn how to fish, I enjoyed the food and fellowship. I met so many new people. It was exciting and encouraging knowing that other students are interested in learning how to fish. … I know many students, including myself, appreciated this trip.
As part of the event, Laura McKeeman, the Miss America pageant contestant crowned as Miss Florida, talked to the kids about the importance of getting an education. NPCA staff shared ways that people have been working to restore the Everglades and explained some of the recreational opportunities available to them at national parks. Later in the day, the kids got to experience an air boat ride, most of them for the first time.
“The air boat ride was something new to most of the kids and always like new to me,” said Elisha Williams, one of the instructors for Mahogany Youth who helped oversee the event. The activities brought back memories of his own childhood, and he celebrated each fish that was caught as a story that child would be able to share in the future about his or her experience. “The kids were amazed and so inquisitive,” he beamed.
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NPCA and Mahogany Youth hope to build on the success of this outing with more park-based youth fishing events in the future—and to keep building a connection between these kids and their national parks.