Florida is known for beautiful weather, powdery sand beaches and distinct architecture but it also had one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country. In fact there are seven total ecosystems within the state of Florida. Bill Sadowski Park and Nature Center, based in Miami-Dade County, houses three within the thirty-acre property alone. Does learning about the South Florida ecosystem sound interesting? Not to most children and young adults, but this is where eighteen-year-old Ambassador Cayleigh G. comes in.
Cayleigh’s project, Nature S.T.A.R.S. at Bill Sadowski Park, helps attract a younger audience for the park the once voted “Best Places to Get In Touch With Nature” by CBS Miami. The park includes nature trails, canoeing, fishing, a bird watching area and limestone formations as well as live animal exhibits, including reptiles, amphibians and a 822-gallon freshwater aquarium featuring native species. While the park has a multitude of offerings, it lacked the appeal for a younger demographic who, for the latter past year, has been told to stay indoors -resulting in heightened screen times.
Thanks to Cayleigh’s project, the park has now received a multitude of structural and programmatic improvements, including the instillation of updated signage, a new library and reading nook, a new “Leave No Trace” program and even a Stargazing Board to engage the park’s visitors at every age. All of which will continue to be supported by the park following Cayleigh’s graduation.
This Gold Award Girl Scout and Presidential Volunteer Service Award recipient achieved her goal of creating a more inviting environment for kids and their families as a result of her initiatives. Bill Sadowski Park and Nature Center receives 24,500 local visitors each year and we look forward to watching these numbers continue to grow as a result of the positive change that Cayleigh has put forth within our local community.
While her project may be complete, her mission has just begun. This Miami Palmetto Sr. High School senior plans to attend Miami-Dade College in the fall with the goal of becoming a Park Ranger and we have no doubt we’ll continue to see the impact that Cayleigh has on our community well into the future.
Tell us about your project
My project, "Nature S.T.A.R.S.", improved the existing Bill Sadowski Park & Nature Center in 5 specific areas to encourage interactive learning and spending time outdoors:
I improved the park by adding a stargazing bulletin board, replacing trail signs, creating nature art mandalas, building reptile cabinets, installing a Little Free Library completed by the addition and design of the Book Nook reading/program area, and an addition of a Leave No Trace program. My goal was to make the park more inviting for kids and families.
How is your project sustainable?
My project will impact upwards of 24,500 local residents and many more visitors who visit the park annually. The park staff will maintain the majority of the initiative long-term including both libraries, the wall murals, stargazing board, reptile cabinets and signage. By encouraging visitors to keep the park clean through the Leave No Trace program, my project helps sustain the park into the future as many children will be able to enjoy the new updates to the park for years to come. Parents will spread the word, encourage other families to bring their kids to the park, and be more inclined to bring them to the park more often.
What gave you the inspiration to approach this topic the way that you did?
Children today spend approximately half the time outdoors as their parents did when they were kids. The average amount of time outside each day is only 12.6 minutes, compared to 10 hours of indoor, mostly motionless activity. Technology advances have made it too easy for kids to connect online and neglect playing outdoors. They use computers at school for work, then come home and do more online homework. In the "new normal" as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many kids are spending 8+ hours a day on Zoom calls and doing online homework as well. Children need a break from technology to learn about nature and become connected to their community. I wanted to address this issue by making a local park more inviting to area residents to encourage them to spend more time outdoors with their kids.
My approach was to grab kids' attention and create an interest and desire for them to:
Why is this project important to you, personally?
I am passionate about nature and want to pass that on to others. If more children visit parks and learn the value of being outdoors, we will have generations of much happier and healthier people. Being outdoors provides a stress-free environment where kids can learn how to interact with nature, explore their curiosity and develop skills that will help them grow up to be adults that value and protect their local parks and habitats. I believe my improvements to the park will inspire and encourage more visitors. I am proud of my project because I challenged myself and it was a success!
What was the biggest challenge you overcame and how?
Some of the challenges I faced were having to modify my original vision to meet the needs of the park and what Miami-Dade County would allow me to do. During my initial research I learned the county does not allow painting (inside or outside) at their park properties, so I had to switch from doing a hand-painted mural to using a printed, adhesive vinyl wall mural that was repositionable, which the park would approve. In the end, I think the printed mural looks amazing and was actually a better choice than a painted one.
I also had to make a few adjustments to the original plan as a result of COVID-19. My original idea of a large, painted art mural on the outer wall of the center had to be changed to an art collage so it could be worked on in smaller pieces outside of the park to allow for social distancing. The wall mural on the inside of the center had to be wipeable and sanitized easily for safety, so I went with a peel-and-stick vinyl mural. I also had to do most of the work at the park by myself, with some required adult supervision while seeking advice and using the tools necessary to complete the work.
The most challenging part was budgeting because there were so many moving parts to the project. I carefully managed my materials and secured some donations. As a result, not only was I able to stay on budget but even add a few extra items like reptile cabinets, underwater lab porthole decals, and even a flurry of plastic butterflies on the wall behind the nature center desk!
How does this project contribute to your goals for the future?
I am a senior at Miami Palmetto Senior High and have been a Girl Scout for the past 13 years. I have always loved being outdoors and my years of being a PA and CIT at Camp Little House have given me the chance to teach younger girls what I have learned. I want to inspire others to learn more about nature and help protect our resources. I am planning to major in Environmental Science, and I hope to become a ranger for the National Park Service.
What did you learn about your community in this process?
There are about 24,500 residents in Palmetto Bay, and 46% of them are families with kids under the age of 18. Bill Sadowski Park and Nature Center has three distinct habitats within 30 acres: Pineland, Tropical Hardwood Hammock, and a drained Everglades Slough. The variety of habitats in this park make it a special place for residents and visitors to learn about our local ecology.
What did you learn about YOURSELF?
My Gold Award project is the culmination of many years of volunteer service. I earned my Bronze Award collecting supplies for new mothers and knitting caps for infants after the Haiti earthquake. I led a workshop at a local camp and taught other girls how to knit the caps as part of that project as well. I partnered with Project Medishare to deliver the 200+ items to Haiti.
For my Silver Award, I built a Little Free Library from recycled materials and installed it near the Benton MacKaye Trail in Georgia. The area is rural and impoverished, and statistics show kids who aren't exposed to books until kindergarten fall behind in school. I partnered with a local organization that helps educate young kids under the age of 5. I collected over 800 books with the help of my troop to stock their Story Express library van and my new Little Free Library.
For my Gold Award project, I wanted to build on everything I previously learned, while also challenging myself beyond my Bronze and Silver Award projects. I wanted to inspire younger kids, but I also really liked the tangible aspect of building permanent structures and programs that will be sustained after graduation. I learned how to use a router and table saw, and how to do mitered cuts on the radial arm saw. I used my PowerPoint skills to design professional-looking signs. I also learned how to apply an adhesive wall mural and get all the air bubbles out, which is not as easy as you might think. My mom and I were hysterical installing it!
“Girl Scouts has made me a more confident leader and given me the opportunity to be a mentor to younger girls.”