Serenity Garden at Wekiwa Springs
The Serenity Garden at Wekiwa Springs State Park – a ‘park within a park’ – is the only one of its kind in the U.S. It is an innovative approach to expanding access to public spaces and enhancing the quality of the park experience for all visitors with diverse abilities and special needs.
Working with educational, healthcare and social service and horticultural partners, the one-acre garden creates a unique sensory experience for people of all abilities and groups with special needs such as veterans with PTSD, fragile seniors, people in wheelchairs, people with autism, and chronic conditions as well as their families and caregivers. Visitors will be able to see, touch, smell and hear nature in an interactive way.
Design has taken almost two years to finalize to ensure that the views of all experts and focus groups have been accommodated. We are already working with three universities (Adventist, George Washington & Virginia Tech) to create studies to monitor outcomes. The garden will provide opportunities for therapy, education, art and physical activities.
Partners include Adventist University of Health Sciences, Seminole Master Gardeners, Sweetwater Oaks Gardening Club, Florida Park Service, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Office of the Mayor of Apopka, Felburn Foundation and many others who are pledged to support the garden now and in the future.
Florida DEP is already promoting the garden as something that other FL. Parks should follow. We hope that the project will become the template for other parks and public spaces both in the U.S. and overseas
To date almost $250,000 has been raised but as the project has grown both in complexity and size (from half an acre to just over one acre), so has the cost. Final costs are expected to be around $1.5 million and an additional $400,000 to set up an endowment to cover ongoing maintenance and updates. We also plan to provide two scholarships a year, one for an occupational therapy student and one for a therapeutic horticultural student. Work on the first phase – grading, retaining walls, paths and boardwalks – is planned to start this fall.
The Serenity Garden is a unique project that will serve as a sanctuary for a largely underserved population and, hopefully, will become a template for all parks and public places nationwide. As such it deserves all our support.