A new vision for the Everglades' Flamingo Lodge.
By Scott Kirkwood
When Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma tore through the Gulf of Mexico in 2005, most of the attention was properly focused on the thousands of residents who lost their homes. But an icon of the Everglades was also lost. Now the Park Service is looking to reenvision the site for the next generation of visitors. The Flamingo Lodge was constructed more than 50 years ago, on the southern tip of the park, where people have fished for centuries, and visitors still enjoy some of the best birding in the Everglades. As the only overnight accommodations inside the “river of grass,” Flamingo beckoned travelers every year, and it was a favorite among locals, too.
“Park Superintendent Dan Kimball has received hundreds of calls and e-mails from people urging the park to rebuild Flamingo, and sharing all of their family memories over the years,” says Jill Horwitz, senior program coordinator for NPCA’s Sun Coast regional office, which is working to make the new Flamingo a reality. “In rebuilding the lodge, we want to respect the natural resources while providing the visitor experience and sense of place that only Flamingo can offer.”
Xanterra, the company that once operated Flamingo, has pulled out of talks to run the facility, citing rising costs and a brief season to entertain guests, given the heat, mosquitoes, and hurricanes that define every wet season. So NPCA and the Park Service are searching for more economically feasible alternatives that would leave a lighter footprint, like family friendly “ecotents” and portable solar generators, which could simply be removed in the off-season.
New construction is always a costly endeavor, so a public-private partnership is likely to provide the best solution. For now, the park will continue to clarify its vision, while NPCA forges connections with the local business community and identifies experts who can implement green technology in the final product. If things move quickly, it may only be a few years before a new Flamingo spreads its wings.