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Lost to Hurricanes, the Flamingo Lodge at Everglades National Park Will be Hard to Replace

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White eyed vireo at Eco Pond near Flamingo. Photo by ianqui via Wikipedia.

Flamingo Lodge, the only major lodging facility in Everglades National Park, closed in 2005 after being trashed by two powerful hurricanes in 2005. It’ll be demolished now, and assuming that enough funds can be rounded up, it’ll be replaced with a hurricane-resistant lodging complex featuring a small hotel, cottages, and eco-tents.

For nearly half a century, an eclectic collection of boaters, fishermen, birders, nature photographers, hikers, swamp-trompers, canoeists, campers, and adventuresome people (including a smattering of Europeans) has driven 38 miles southwest into Everglades National Park from the park’s main entrance, ending up at the remote community of Flamingo on Florida Bay (see the map at this site). It’s as far south as you can drive in the park.

There is an amazing variety of fun things to do at Flamingo -- even backcountry boat rides and schooner sailing cruises.

Until a few years ago, lodging was available at the two story hotel, 24 cabins, and a campground. The venerable 103-room lodge (opened in 1959) and cabins were far from luxurious, but they were affordable and served their purpose. The rooms had air conditioning, which was perhaps luxury enough in the prevailingly hot and humid summer months. Most visitors came in the cooler months, of course, to avoid the worst heat and mosquitoes.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Wilma -- the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, and the third-costliest storm in U.S. history -- ravaged Flamingo with powerful winds and a nearly ten-foot storm surge. The hotel and cabins were damaged beyond repair. The cabins are already gone, and the lodge is scheduled for demolition.

This is not to say that Flamingo lacks visitor services. Camping is available, and Flamingo’s Mission 66 visitor center, marina/boat ramp, marina store, and gas station are all open for business. Xanterra Parks & Resorts operates the Flamingo Marina and provides associated services, including canoe, kayak, and motorboat rentals.

The National Park Service is eager to restore family-style hospitality services at Flamingo. Park attendance has declined significantly since 2005, and as you can well imagine, area businesses and governments are upset about the losses of income and tax revenues associated with reduced park visitation. Sport fishermen and birders lament the loss of convenient access to some of the best angling and birding in the southern states.

Unfortunately, putting a lodging complex and related amenities in place at Flamingo can’t be done easily or quickly.

Planning for a “new and improved” Flamingo has been going on for three years now. The result is a blueprint for a major makeover designed to make the Flamingo complex smaller, greener, and more hurricane-resistant. The key elements of Plan C (the full makeover) are a 30-room hotel, two dozen cottages, and 40 “eco-tents” for use in the cooler months.

Solar power will supply most of the complex’s electrical needs, and all of the structures will be elevated (stilt-mounted) above the reach of storm surges.

It all sounds pretty good, but there’s a rub. Executing this plan will cost an estimated $20 million, including $9 million for the hotel and cottages alone. Where will all this money come from? It’s been more than 30 years now since a national park lodge was built solely with federal funds.

Park planners and the advocacy NGOs working with them are well aware that they must think creatively, forge public-private partnership, and tap private sector funding if they are to follow through with the ambitious plans for a Flamingo makeover. Some Everglades advocates hope the park will be able to tap the National Park Centennial Fund.

Assuming that a deal can be worked out soon, even the rosiest scenarios don’t have a completed lodging complex in place at Flamingo for at least three to five years.

Comments

I was the GM at Flamingo Resort back in the mid-70's when we had lodge, restaurant, marina, gas station and housing for 150 employees. I visted South Florida in 2000 and was told there was little at Flamingo and sorry to hear that everything appeared to be lost in 2005. Many great memories of my 6 years living at Flamingo.


My wife and I have always enjoyed our previous trips and our stays at the Flamingo lodge. We were very sadden in 2005 when we heard that the Lodge had been damaged to the point of being demolished. Now I am dismayed when I read that the NPD are not rebuilding the lodge because the goverment cannot come up the monies to accomplish this construction. Maybe I can help "our" goverment with some suggested sources of funds to complete this needed reconstruction. Instead of giving all "our" (citizens of USA) money out to all these other countries (some that don't even like us), maybe the goverment could spend the money on worthwhile projects that will be enjoyed by the people who actually earned and supplied the money.


Many years ago, my family and I decided to take a detour into the Everglades on our way across the state. We stopped at the lodge to eat and asked if there was any way to spend the night. To our astonishment we were told there was in fact a room. Although usually they were booked solid months in advance during the winter, we happened to hit a day (shortly after New Years) when they had a vacancy. We took an evening boat trip through the Everglades and then woke up very early so we could be at a nearby lake when the sun rose and what appeared to be several thousand birds woke up and took flight. It was a magical experience, one I have remembered vividly for decades. I'm sad to think that those of us who are not campers or RV'ers can no longer have that experience.


We visited the old place before the hurricane and had a wonderful stay, but noted that it needed some work at the time. I hope a new lodge within the park will soon become a reality. I would like to suggest an idea. After visiting South Africa some years back, I discovered some amazing lodges there that utilized local materials. It would be wonderful to see something done like that in Everglades, using a Native American theme. With the Missosukee tribe nearby, they could contribute some unique and beautiful ideas. Please do a search for South African Lodges and have a look at some of the photos for ideas. Even the tents are elegant! Trust me, it's worth your time. Best wishes


My family has a long history with Flamingo. My uncle's ashes are scattered on Whitewater Bay. Now that I am cruising on a sailboat, I would love to be able to visit the place where my father was a charterboat captain, my uncle lived and was a diesel boat mechanic, and both my brothers worked as night auditors.
It is a beautiful area and the people there are wonderful.
Build the lodge and we will come.
Katie


The Park Service has indeed announced plans to rebuild lodging at Flamingo, as the Traveler reported last August:

A vision for rebuilding the Flamingo area of Everglades National Park calls for an "eco-friendly" destination, one with a 30-unit lodge, two dozen cottages, "eco-tents," and a new marina.

You can read the rest of the story here.


This statement along with the reactions of these readers is something all will have to get used to with the NPS... thanks to those who believe people do not belong in the National parks!

"The National Park Service is eager to restore family-style hospitality services at Flamingo. Park attendance has declined significantly since 2005, and as you can well imagine, area businesses and governments are upset about the losses of income and tax revenues associated with reduced park visitation. Sport fishermen and birders lament the loss of convenient access to some of the best angling and birding in the southern states. "

I am surprised Bob not to see mention of needing to get studies and Environmental intervention before even getting to the planning stages?


We have also stayed in Flamingo at the lodge. Agree completely that it needs to have lodging for all levels of visitors who want to experience and cherish this wonderful place.


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