Fort Pierce, FL – In November 2001, what had been McKee Jungle Gardens on US 1 at the south end of Vero Beach reopened as a smaller but classier McKee Botanical Garden. On Sunday, the Garden will hold a celebration marking the 10th anniversary of the reopening. In 1922, Vero Beach pioneer Waldo Sexton and Cleveland industrialist Arthur McKee founded the McKee Jungle Gardens on 80 acres of dense tropical vegetation. They added orchids and water lilies from around the world, plus monkeys and alligators. The Gardens became Florida's third largest tourist attraction. But later they could not compete with the new theme parks in Orlando and in 1976 closed their doors. Most of the land was sold. In 1994, the last18 acres were purchased by the Indian River Land Trust. More money was raised to preserve what was best about the Jungle Gardens and add new exhibits for "education, enjoyment and enrichment," as the new Botanical Garden puts it. I thought the old Jungle Gardens were fun. I like the new Botanical Garden even more. After strolling through the subtropical setting, I feel restored. To tell you the truth, I don't miss the monkeys and the alligators. For 88.9 FM, this is Paul Janensch.
Treasure Coast essayist Paul Janensch was a newspaper editor and taught journalism at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.