The National Park Service has given the green light to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Visitor Center project in Everglades National Park. This initiative involves constructing a new two-story building and making significant site improvements at the former Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City, a place with historical significance for the park.
Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the original Gulf Coast Visitor Center and its surroundings back in September 2017. Since then, a temporary visitor contact station has been in operation to provide essential services to park visitors. This project aims to increase the park’s resilience, enhance the visitor experience, and improve its capacity to maintain facilities.
Pedro Ramos, the superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks, expressed enthusiasm about the contract award for this project. He highlighted that these improvements will create a premier destination for showcasing the Gulf Coast of Everglades National Park and will play a role in bolstering the local economy of Everglades City.
The upcoming two-story visitor center will be designed with resilience in mind to withstand hurricane-force winds and storm surges. It will house visitor orientation services, retail spaces, staff offices, and an elevated deck that offers picturesque views of Chokoloskee Bay. This elevated building will adhere to LEED silver requirements and meet Florida building code standards for coastal high-hazard zones.
The project encompasses various other components, including elevating the site to mitigate flooding from storm events and king tides, replacing the existing bulkhead at the marina, expanding and dredging the marina basin, enhancing the kayak launch, constructing a concession building for rentals near the canoe/kayak ramp, installing floating docks, and creating a new public entrance road. Additionally, there will be improvements like enhanced pedestrian walkways, outdoor seating, native landscaping, and shoreline stabilization.
The new visitor center will be named in honor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a renowned author, and environmental advocate who played a pivotal role in the establishment of Everglades National Park. The construction of this visitor center was authorized by Congress in 1989 as part of the Everglades National Park Protection and Expansion Act of 1989. It aligns with the park’s 2015 Final General Management Plan, which identified the need for a new visitor center, an improved canoe-kayak launch, and enhancements to existing parking areas.
Anticipated to span at least two years, the construction activities will necessitate planned closures at the Gulf Coast location. However, the park management is committed to maintaining visitor access whenever it’s safe to do so. The canoe/kayak launch is expected to remain open continuously until April 1, 2024, when it will temporarily close due to construction.
Onsite concession services, including boat tours and rentals, will pause starting September 30, with plans to resume operations in the fall of 2024. Given the project’s complexity, all construction and closure dates are subject to change due to unforeseen circumstances.
For a detailed review of the Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significance for this project, you can visit the NPS Planning, Environment & Public Comment (PEPC) site at parkplanning.nps.gov/gulfcoast.
This above news story is based on a press release from the National Park Service, which was issued on September 13, 2023. You can read the original release here.
About Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is a unique natural wonder that you must explore, and your adventure should begin at the visitor center. This park is like no other place on Earth, offering a glimpse into the wild and untamed beauty of Florida’s wetlands.
Starting at the visitor center provides several key advantages. Firstly, it’s the gateway to understanding the park. Here, you’ll find valuable information about the park’s history, ecology, and the best places to explore. The knowledgeable staff can answer your questions, offer tips, and help you plan your visit.
Moreover, the visitor center is a comfortable place to get oriented. You can pick up maps, brochures, and guides that will be your companions as you venture into the park. Understanding the layout, the trails, and the unique features of this ecosystem is essential for a safe and enjoyable visit.
What is Special About the Everglades of Florida?
Unique Natural Environment
Everglades National Park stands out for its exceptional natural environment. It’s one of the most distinctive ecosystems globally, consisting of sawgrass prairies, freshwater sloughs, and mangrove forests. What makes it truly unique is its vast, slow-moving river of grass, often called the “River of Grass.” This immense, shallow, and slow-moving waterway covers most of the park and gives it its name.
The park is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. You can spot a remarkable array of animals here, both common and rare. Alligators, one of the park’s most iconic residents, are frequently seen basking in the sun or gliding through the water. Birdwatchers will delight in the park’s 350 species of birds, including the majestic bald eagle and the striking roseate spoonbill.
Everglades National Park is a paradise for birdwatchers. It’s home to numerous bird species, including wading birds like herons, egrets, and ibises. The park is also an essential habitat for the endangered snail kite, a raptor that feeds primarily on apple snails. Bring your binoculars and camera to capture these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.
Within the park’s boundaries, you’ll find tropical wilderness, unlike any other in the United States. The lush mangrove forests and subtropical hammocks offer a sharp contrast to the surrounding sawgrass plains. Exploring these diverse ecosystems, you’ll encounter unique plant and animal species adapted to this tropical environment.
Shark Valley is a prominent feature of Everglades National Park. It’s a 15-mile loop road that takes you through the heart of the “River of Grass.” Here, you can take a tram tour or bike along the trail to witness alligators, wading birds, and the breathtaking panoramic views of the vast wetlands.
The Anhinga Trail is a short, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk trail renowned for its abundant wildlife. As you stroll along, you’re likely to spot alligators, turtles, and, of course, anhingas – diving birds with long necks that resemble snakes.
Everglades Wilderness Waterway
For those seeking adventure, the Everglades Wilderness Waterway offers a chance to explore the park’s interior by kayak or canoe. Paddle through winding mangrove tunnels and remote waterways, encountering wildlife in its most natural state.
To sum it up, Everglades National Park’s unique combination of ecosystems, from sawgrass prairies to mangrove forests, and its incredible wildlife make it a one-of-a-kind destination. Whether you’re a nature lover, a birdwatcher, or simply looking for a unique outdoor experience, this park has something exceptional to offer every visitor.
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Feature image: nps.gov