Everglades National Park’s Flamingo area to reopen — with limitations — after Irma damage

Aerial image of damage to the Flamingo Visitor Center after Hurricane Irma.
Aerial image of damage to the Flamingo Visitor Center after Hurricane Irma.

Everglades National Park is reopening Flamingo, its southernmost outpost, about a month after Hurricane Irma pounded the region — but visitors should expect limited facilities for the foreseeable future, the park said.

The National Park Service said it expects to allow visitors onto Main Park Road and into Flamingo again starting at 7 a.m. Saturday, though the visitor center, marina store and restrooms remain closed. Concessions boat tours are also canceled for the time being, and the area will close daily at 7 p.m. Big Cypress National Preserve reopened its visitor center on the Tamiami Trail and three campgrounds Friday.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is also asking the public for help in assessing damage to the underwater park. Information should be reported to the Mote Marine labs, which as an ongoing early-detection program monitoring environmental hazards.

The park service closed all of the Everglades on Sept. 6, a few days before Irma roared through the Florida Keys and up through the mainland. It reopened some visitor entrances a few weeks later, but Flamingo — hard-hit by the hurricane’s powerful winds and tidal surge — remained shuttered the rest of the month.

The storm widened stretches of beach along the northwest coast of Cape Sable and blew mounds of uprooted seagrass inland, in addition to knocking down a portion of the moat wall at Fort Jefferson about 60 feet across. The Flamingo visitor center in the Everglades, which was already in the middle of being restored, was pounded again and the marina was also heavily damaged, park officials said.

Officials advised mariners to use extreme caution when boating in the area, as some navigational aids and channel markers have disappeared and the storm may have scattered underwater debris. Visitors to Big Cypress should also expect high water and downed trees, superintendent Tamara Whittington said in a statement.

A month later, park employees are continuing to clean up several areas of the park, clearing trails and conducting tree work on the area’s main roads. The agency also had to restore wastewater and water treatment plants after the storm hit and caused damage.

Other areas in the 1.5 million acre park, including Shark Valley and Gulf Coast, remain closed.

Across South Florida, mounds of mangled trees, smashed patio furniture and other debris have lined the sides of streets since Irma blew through the state earlier this month.