Going green: Boca Children's Museum latest mission gets boost

Eagle Scout candidates Matt Mirandi, 16 and Josh Hartigan,17, have opened a new chapter for the Children's Museum in Boca Raton. They have built a nature trail, an outdoor lecture amphitheater and special gardens to attract hummingbirds and butterfiies. Carline Jean, Sun Sentinel

The Earth Day celebration at the Boca Raton Children's Museum will also mark the official debut of the museum's latest effort to spark environmental interest among the youngest seedlings.

For 35 years, the museum on city property has offered children a place for educational play — like a post office and a supermarket. Now, though, thanks to the efforts of Eagle Scout candidates, a whole new realm of discovery is opening up outside, on the museum grounds.

A nature trail with native plants along the way, a garden designed to attract hummingbirds and another to attract butterflies are among the new draws to the museum that Earth Day celebrants will see April 26.

Josh Hartigan, 17, a junior at Boca Raton High School, worked on the butterfly garden and the native plant display, thinking of how much similar exhibits at Butterfly World and Lion Country Safari sparked his interest when he was younger.

"Places like this can inspire kids to be more involved with nature and the outdoors," said Hartigan, who is planning to major in biology in college.

And there's not a video game screen in sight. But museum-goers will be treated to the sight of a jaboticaba, a tree that grows fruit on its trunk.

Saturday's opening could be a last hurrah. The museum is facing running out of funds Wednesday. The museum has been facing some lean times, due to cuts in state and county funding. But museum leaders are trying to stay optimistic.

Denise St. Patrick-Bell, the museum's executive director, said she expects what the scouts have done will mean a lot to the museum into the future.

Three-ring binders detail just how much effort each project required. Step by step, for example, scout Matt Mirandi detailed how he would raise money for the materials to build five bird houses, one bat house and a purple martin motel, and then construct them.

"They have left their mark," St. Patrick-Bell said of the efforts of these four Eagle Scout candidates. "They are learning about pride, accomplishment and recognition."

The Boca Raton Beautification Committee also contributed to the new garden and nature trail. The Boca Raton Garden Club has also become part of the museum events. It's never too young to start digging into the dirt, said Carol Brown, president of the Garden Club.

"We're thrilled they are going down this path," Brown said of the museum's efforts.

Sandy Manning, marketing and events coordinator for the museum, said she wanted a display that would show children flora native to Florida and how these native plants can thrive even with limited water and sandy soil.

They will also see pond apple trees and sabal palms. Cardboard palms, wild coffee and sweet bay leaves are also part of the display, complete with small plaques to highlight them.

"We want kids to understand how native plants can be used for landscaping," she said. "It's going to take the museum to another level."

ageggis@tribune.com, 561-243-6624 or Twitter @AnneBoca

Earth Day Celebration

Where: Boca Raton Children's Museum, 498 Crawford Blvd., Boca Raton

When: 10 a.m. to noon, April 26

Featuring: The first 125 guests will get slash pine seedlings from the Division of Forestry. Smokey the Bear will make an appearance. The Palm Beach County Extension Service is sending master gardeners to answer questions. Members of the Boca Raton Beautification Committee and the Boca Raton Garden Club will also be there, along with eco-artists displays.