Blog Post Cara Capp, John Adornato May 29, 2024

A Renaissance in Flamingo

Thanks to NPCA’s decades-long work, a new visitor center has opened at Flamingo in Everglades National Park and the area’s namesake birds are returning.

Flamingo is experiencing a rebirth.

After years of ecological harm caused by development, this southern tip of Everglades National Park — named for its once-famous pink residents — is now seeing the return of clean water and wildlife. The recovery, in large part, reflects the successful Everglades restoration initiatives that NPCA has been advocating for since the 1980s.

At the same time, our work to secure National Park Service funding to rebuild Flamingo’s hurricane-condemned visitor facilities deep in the Everglades has led to the grand opening of the Guy Bradley Visitor Center and a new Flamingo Lodge and Restaurant, each designed and rebuilt with storm protection and resiliency to withstand sea-level rise from climate change. Visitors can also enjoy eco‐tents for “glamping” and recreational amenities such as kayak rentals and Florida Bay boat tours.

It’s fitting that the Park Service named the visitor center for a conservation officer who was killed trying to protect wildlife from poachers at Flamingo in 1905; the dedication/reopening occurred as flamingo sightings have been increasing over the past decade.

During a recent stay at the newly opened lodge, we saw over 50 flamingos — one of the largest flocks in decades!

NPCA never stopped fighting for Flamingo. We’re excited that this combination of more accessible facilities plus increased wildlife sightings means that people can once again experience the wonder of this wild, remote section of the greater Everglades.

From ‘River of Grass’ to environmental degradation

Before development in South Florida, the Everglades existed as a massive, flowing ecosystem twice the size of New Jersey. Water flowed slowly from the Kissimmee River to Florida Bay across the flat South Florida landscape known as the “River of Grass.”

Press Release

New Polling Confirms Floridians’ Tremendous Support for Everglades Restoration, Florida National Parks

Polling from Florida Atlantic University and NPCA indicates that Floridians overwhelmingly support national parks, Everglades restoration efforts, and climate change solutions.

See more ›

In the early 20th century, people drained the Everglades for farms, cities and highways — displacing wildlife, Tribal communities and the namesake grass. More than 70% of the water flow was lost, resulting in less water for South Florida residents and keeping Everglades National Park consistently in drought.

A water quality crisis in Florida Bay in the 1980s became the catalyst for efforts to restore the Everglades, which set into motion many of the projects NPCA has championed for years.

Lack of clean freshwater coming through the Everglades and into Florida Bay led to widespread seagrass die-offs and fish kills that forever changed the ecosystem and local economy. Plume hunting in the 19th century combined with environmental changes of the 20th century led the colorful flamingos — once so abundant in Florida Bay — to breed instead in Mexico and Cuba.

NPCA has long fought for various restoration projects that keep water flowing south in its more natural pattern. NPCA led the campaign to elevate Tamiami Trail – the road from Tampa to Miami built in 1929 – so that the flow of water would pass unimpeded into the deepest part of Everglades National Park, known as Shark Valley Slough.

Our advocacy for improved water quality and quantity flowing into the park led to improved operations of the water management system, the installation of the underground wall in Miami-Dade County that prevents water from seeping into the Las Palmas community that’s in a corner of the Everglades, and the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir, now under construction, to store more water that will make its way to Florida Bay.

Some people worry that Everglades restoration will take too long and won’t be worth the effort amid the reality of climate change and sea level rise. NPCA disagrees. The wildlife already tells us that we are making progress. After the Kissimmee River was restored by rebuilding the river’s natural curve, egrets, ibises, storks and herons flocked back. Now, wildlife is returning to Florida Bay, too. Environmental groups shared at 2023’s Everglades Coalition Conference that they see increased numbers of nesting birds and alligators, as well as more areas of Everglades National Park staying hydrated.

The huge flock of flamingoes in Flamingo this year shows more evidence of success in Everglades restoration. Giving better habitat to wildlife is critical if we hope to support native species with time to adapt in a changing climate.

From shambles to climate resilience

We can achieve and celebrate incremental progress along the restoration journey. Last October, the Park Service invited us to speak and help cut the ribbon at the dedication ceremony for new Guy Bradley Visitor Center and new lodging facilities in recognition of NPCA’s longstanding work at Flamingo, including our contributions to envisioning how the area could be rebuilt in a walkable and environmentally sustainable way.

It was amazing, and frankly unbelievable, to stand inside the gorgeous visitor center after seeing the site in complete disrepair after Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005, and again after Hurricane Irma in 2017 blew the roof off a temporary visitor center created after the first two hurricanes. Finally having overnight accommodations again — almost 20 years since the disasters — gives a new generation of visitors and anglers a chance to experience this place as it was so long ago.

In addition to pushing for Everglades restoration, NPCA led the charge in advocating to Congress that Flamingo must be rebuilt in a way that exemplifies sustainability and climate resilience. We worked to secure funding through the Great American Outdoors Act and hurricane emergency resources to reopen the facilities and incorporate the latest construction standards of elevated and hardened structures in their design.

We appreciate how, in the rebuilding, the Park Service also placed special emphasis on preserving the visitor center’s distinctive color and mid-20th century architecture from the Mission 66 campaign, which was the Park Service’s initiative to expand and modernize park facilities in advance of the agency’s 50th anniversary in 1966.

For decades, this pink visitor center with its nearby lodge and campground had welcomed adventurers and anglers to Florida Bay’s launching point. The modern building on the water became one of the national park’s premier and most beloved areas. Visitors came to see the namesake 4-foot-tall birds, manatees, American crocodiles and fish that made Everglades National Park a world-renowned angling destination. For nearly 40 years, the Flamingo Lodge and Restaurant proved equally as popular, as people needed an air-conditioned place to eat and rest in this off-the-beaten-path area of the park.

Now visitors and flamingos are flocking once again.

NPCA considers Flamingo’s re‐opening a huge victory for accessibility and public engagement — and it could not have happened without the dedicated, continued support of park advocates. This new, vibrant era for Flamingo is a testament to the importance of Park Service funding and what can be accomplished when we step up to support our parks and the environments they protect.

Want to visit?

Everglades National Park consists of 1.5 million acres, and Flamingo is one of its four visitor centers. The Guy Bradley Visitor Center and Flamingo Lodge and Restaurant are located 40 miles south of the main park visitor center in Homestead, Florida, and over an hour’s drive from downtown Miami. Thanks to a successful public transit initiative led by NPCA, you can take a train or bus from Miami to the Homestead entrance. However, a car is needed to make your way to Flamingo, as there is no public transportation within the Flamingo area as there was in the 1960s. Flamingo also is out of reach of most cell/internet service.

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About the authors

  • Cara Capp Everglades Restoration Senior Program Manager, Sun Coast

    Cara works to restore and protect natural resources in and around Florida's national parks as the Sun Coast's Everglades Restoration Senior Program Manager.

  • John Adornato Deputy Vice President of Regional Operations

    John joined NPCA in February 2002 in the Sun Coast Region and in 2018 became the Deputy Vice President of Regional Operations out of DC. In this role, he helps manage NPCA’s regional programs, which encompass over 55 staff in eleven regions across the country.

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