A growing collection of facts, thoughts and events from a 80-year-old man and his family, friends, and the characters that he has met along the way . . .

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On August 28, 2005, Hurricane Katrina virtually destroyed the Flamingo Lodge Marina & Outpost Resort located in the Everglades National Park at the southern end of State Road 9336. Two more hurricanes – Rita on September 20, 2005, and Wilma on October 24, 2005 – finished the job. 103 motel rooms and suites, 26 cottages, the gift shop, restaurants and bars, all of the marina facilities, and all of the employee housing was destroyed and the resort was officially closed in June of 2006.

The whole world knows about the destruction of the city of New Orleans by Katrina on August 29. New Orleans had an estimated population then of about 160,000. However, in comparison, very few people new about the city of Flamingo; in fact, I am not even sure that it is a city, and I lived there from May, 1996, until September, 2002. During that period of time I worked for the company that managed the concessions at Flamingo; the lodge, cottages, gift shop, dining room, cafe, marina store, gas station, and boat rentals. Most visitors to Flamingo never got to see our “residential” community. Located down a blacktop road signed for Maintenance Only there were several old 2 and 3 bedroom trailers, six dormitory buildings, (4 old wooden stilt-type dorms and 2 more modern concrete & steel dorms, 3 laundry areas, and a recreation hall. During the winter season, from November or December through Easter, it took about 170 people to staff the concessions – and that is where all but a few of them lived. The US Department of the Interior was the land-owner, and the National Park Service employed a staff of rangers to oversee their interests in this part of the Everglades National Park. They also lived in dormitories – at the end of the maintenance road. A small cooperatively owned T-shaped fishing pier separated the two communities. Fortunately for everyone concerned, Katrina hit Flamingo during the slow season and – while recruiting for the winter season was in process – the concessionaire only had 40 or 50 employees in residence then, and everyone was able to evacuate safely.

I loved the everglades and enjoyed working in Flamingo despite the fact that I often complained loudly about the sweltering summer heat, the 43 different varieties of mosquitoes that chewed on me and the alligators that often blocked the trails I had to navigate. The fishing was fantastic! I first fished out of Flamingo in 1947, before the road was black-topped and before President Truman dedicated the park. I was 11 years old then, and my mother, stepfather, and I caught a lot of fish. When I came out of retirement in 1996 and got a job at the Flamingo Marina I was elated. During the next six years I caught a great variety of fish; Mangrove Snapper, Sheepshead, Sea Trout, Reds (big redfish), Snook – some over 30” long, Black Drum, small Goliath Grouper, Tarpon and sharks. The Goliath Grouper, and the Tarpon – many over 100 lbs, were released as were the sharks; mostly Black Tips, but an occasional Bonnet or Lemon.

Soon after turning 65 in 2002 I retired again, and moved to Tampa Bay, but it was always my intent to return many times to fish the waters surrounding Flamingo. Now there is no place to stay. The nearest motels are about 50 miles away, in Florida City and Homestead, and I live over 300 miles away, so . . . I guess this is My Epitaph to the Flamingo Lodge Marina and Outpost Resort.

This is a picture of me at Flamingo in 1947:

The pictures that follow were taken by the late Peter Hulse, GM of the concessionaires operations at Flamingo, on September 2, 2005.  They are published here with the consent of Jennifer Huber (http://www.quirkykitschgirl.com/):

 

When Hurricane Wilma struck on October 24, 2005, she put the finishing touches on what was once known as the Flamingo Marina and Outpost Resort.  The below photographs were also taken by the late Peter Hulse, and forwarded to me by Jennifer Huber:

The Motel buildings, offices and guest rooms:

The Cottages:

 
 

Employee Housing:

Food & Beverage Department:

The Buttonwood (above) and the Gift Shop (below) seemed to have taken less of a hit then many of the other areas:

Maintenance:

Marina Maintenance Area:

The Marina and Marina Store:

The Houseboats:

 

The absolute End!

 

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Comments on: ">An Epitaph to the Flamingo Lodge Marina & Outpost Resort, Everglades National Park" (8)

  1. >it's kind of amazing that the kitchen area in F&B fared as well as it did. (actually looks cleaner!) but employee housing…..ai yi yi! it's my understanding that sheila's trailer (self-owned) and truck went into the bay. barb

  2. >Nice post. Going back in Feb. and April 2008 was sad – I took some photos of the Lodge, knowing it was going to be bulldozed – but the cottages were already gone. Looters were scavenging. The Bald Eagle was sold to a Northeast Florida business, nice it has a new life!

  3. Larry Thompson said:

    Thank you so much for posting these pictures. I worked and lived there in 1977 and it was the best job I ever, ever had. I loved it there. I worked in the marina and at that time it was managed by a guy named Joe (last name escapes me). I used to take care of skiff, bike and canoe rentals and schedule charters for the guides. I would also give fishing reports on the radio and to the newspapers. Do you remember Capt. Scudder and the his boat the “Flamingo Belle”? Capt. Tommy Williams? Capt. Siebert, Capt. Bill Cunningham? Capt Scudder was a great old salt. I remember eating fried mullet at his trailer with a writer from the Miami Herald by the name of Juanita Green. Good people. So was Tommy Williams. He and I would go out on his boat outside and load up on mangrove snapper and take them to the cook in the restaurant and they would fry them up. Nothing better. The Captains, Scudder and Williams lived in trailers in the employee camp I lived in the housing on stilts. I had the first room on the south end of the dorm closest to the bay. I opened the marina @ 6:00 AM. When my car broke down I rode a bike in the dark to the marina. You know when I say dark, it was dark, if the moon wasn’t out. There was an alligator that slept by the stairs sometimes and I would park the bike facing the direction I had to go. The lights were burned out under the dorm so I would shoot matches to see if the gator was by my bike. If all was clear, I would run like hell to grab the bike and run with it to jump on so I could stay ahead of the cloud of mosquitos. You couldn’t see in that deep darkness but I knew where the road was and headed for it and would watch for the white lines in the middle so I wouldn’t run off in the brush. The silence was deafening and the stars were amazing. The clank of the bike would startle unknown animals and I would hear them run into the bush as I approached. Still don’t know what they were. Getting to the marina, off the bike and getting the door unlocked was a nightmare with the mosquitos. I was the first hot meal they’d seen and they were in you eyes, ears and nose instantly. I loved every minute of it. I have to tell you that when I was looking at the pics, I got a little teary. So thanks again for posting those. Silly add on but you know when you hear big news like when Kennedy was shot, you know where you were when you heard it? I was working in Flamingo when Elvis died and everyone was talking about it. Funny. Thanks again, Larry

  4. Larry’s post above brought back a wash of memories for me, many of the very same things! I also opened the marina store but in the mid ’90s. Nothing was different in my experiences. Such a magical place.

    • Don & Karen Cochran said:

      Larry’s post was pretty accurate for me as well traveling in the dark as a dock hand in the 90’s. Some mornings I would leave the marina, Don’s houseboat, Sailor’s Rest, at 4:30 am and go back to my trailer get ready for work and go back to marina for 5:30 shift. The silence and not so silence was magical and eerie at the same time. I did hit “speed bump” on the hoist damn more than once. I hit, fell, left my bike and kept on running. Go back and get my bike at first light.
      Our current houseboat is named Flamingo Belle in memory of Capt. Scudder. 🙂

      • I don’t remember whether or not you where in Flamingo when I lived there on my old boat, the Rubaiyat, but your comments reminded me of the morning I was awakened early by some loud conversation taking place near the marina boat ramp (the one on the bay side). When i went to investigate I discovered that one of our breakfast cooks (can’t remember his name) was riding his bicycle to work in the dark (without a light of any kind) and he ran over a really big ‘gator that was in his path. He fell of his bike and landed on his hands and knees. When he looked back to see what he had hit he discovered that he had ran over this “really big ‘gator.” They both went in opposite directions . . .the gator lunged over the seawall and back into the water with the cooks bike attached (I think his name was Bill or Billy (the cook; not the ‘gator). What awakened me was the noise being made by our lady ranger (can’t remember her name either, but she was very nice; a big lady with a big gun) who was fishing in the water with a long boat hook, trying to retrieve the bicycle – and, obviously, by the noise being made by the now curious crowd. If you were there you know this story to be true, too. If you weren’t there you may have heard about this incident as the story circulated rapidly throughout the park system – and as it did, the ‘gator grew in length. The last time I heard about it (many years ago), the alligator had grown to 13’!!!

  5. Sheila Burkhart said:

    As with the others who have commented here, I too would like to thank you for posting pictures and writting of your adventures in Flamingo. I first arrived a couple years after Hurricane Andrew hit Florida. I did not quite understand the devastation that hurricanes can cause. After a few hurricane evacuations I realized that I couldn’t take everything with me. I remember going through many hurricane evacuations, but these were different.
    I remember at about 1 a.m. when Katrina was over us, that maybe I should leave my trailer. I was watching the trees outside the window of my trailer move in all different directions. It was time to leave. While leaving my trailer with my cat and heading over to the E Dorm I was wondering if it was the right decision. I did not know if we were going to make it. The winds from Katrina were making it difficult to breathe.
    We made it! I can hear equipment under the building slide across the sidewalk below. Car and building fire alarms going of!. The rain was pelting the sides of the building and fire exit signs being ripped off the the building. I can feel the building move ever so slightly. This feeling is very hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it for yourself.
    Later in the morning when the sun was up we could see there was water everywhere. Mid day we were given the news we had an hour to pack and evacuate. At this point I had to decide, what can I live without?! I most likely will never be coming back.
    I remember leaving employee housing and heading over to the Hotel area, our meeting place. It was a scary drive with water deeper than our tires on the truck. I believe it was the longest drive of my life along with heading out of the park to Florida City.
    As I see the pictures; my office, marina area and the Hotel it is amazing what nature can do. We were always told the Bay was overdue for a direct hit from a hurricane, well we got to see it first-hand. For me it is okay if I don’t experience that again. I am so happy I got to spend over 8 years there. I met people from all over and had a great time fishing off of the dock in employee housing and out in White Water Bay.
    After leaving Flamingo we headed to Crater Lake, Oregon. For the winter we came to work in Death Valley National Park. Several of the employees from Flamingo had transferred out here after the evacuation to work. Soon after Peter came out for a GM meeting at Furnace Creek and he looked us up. That was great see him again and he asked if we would ever come back to work at Flamingo. We said yes. We would love to come back!
    Not two weeks later, we got news that Peter passed away. Hearing this was very heart breaking. Peter had been such a good friend and I believe those of us who stayed behind after the Hurricanes all grew a little bit closer together. We have not returned to see the wonderful sunsets over Florida Bay. I hope one day to return, but I also like to keep the memories as the way it was when I was working and living in such a wonderful. To see what it has become now I’m sure it would only saddened me due to the lack of human presence or I would be happy that apart of Flamingo has returned to Nature. I would not change the time that I spent in Flamingo for I have many memories to think back on and the wonderful people I have met.
    Thank you for keeping Flamingo live and keeping in touch with the many friendships that have been made.
    A sunset trip on the Windfall, music night with friends in the Buttonwood Cafe! ❤

  6. Don & Karen Cochran said:

    We go back to Flamingo at least once a year on the way to the Keys (and stop by the Cape, Sandy Key and other that meant so much to us then, hold so many memories). It is a sad little place since the hurricanes. Bare necessities at that. Breaks your heart to see what is there today compared to a little thriving community we used to have.

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