Shake-A-Leg building environmental center

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Shake-A-Leg Miami has received a $150,000 grant to help transform two city-owned spoil islands in Biscayne Bay into an environmental education center for South Florida’s children and youth.

Some of the grant money also will be used to outfit a donated 37-foot trimaran to take children out on the bay on marine science cruises, says Harry Horgan, Shake-A-Leg’s founder and executive director.

The grant, from Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines’ Ocean Fund, helps fund part of an ambitious program to turn Shake-A-Leg’s Miami waterfront facility into a sailing, boating, environmental and education center for children and youths, especially the disabled and the disadvantaged.

Shake-A-Leg just opened a $6 million watersports and education complex on the bay a year ago April. The core of its program is its fleet of boats, many of them designed to accommodate disabled sailors: nine Independence 20s for the wheelchair-bound and other disabled; 15 Australian-built Access dinghies, also for disabled sailors; three 23-foot Sonars; 30 ocean kayaks; several keelboats, including a J/22 for the blind sailing team, a pontoon and several chase boats.

About 200 children a day visit Shake-A-Leg, either its education center, where they are tutored on computers; or its boat docks, where staff members teach them to sail. Horgan says he’s raising $3 million more to put in a pool where children can learn to swim, a wellness center and more classrooms — but it’s the environmental education program that is now on top of his to-do list. “There’s an environmental strand threaded through all our programming,” he says. The spoil islands are just a quarter-mile from the Shake-A-Leg facility at Dinner Key. The islands’ $1 million makeover includes removing exotic plants, planting native species, stabilizing shoreline, putting in parks and nature trails, and creating a replica of an early Florida Indian village. “From working with the Indians, we hope we can show what it would have been like living in this environment in the early days,” he says.

Besides the Ocean Fund grant, Horgan says he is looking for the donation of a launch to shuttle students to the islands. www.shakealeg.org