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Flamingo, Florida

Flamingo is an unincorporated community in Monroe County, Florida, United States. It began as a small coastal settlement on the eastern end of Cape Sable on the southern tip of the Florida peninsula, facing Florida Bay. It is now the southernmost headquarters of Everglades National Park, the end of the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway known as the Ten Thousand Islands, and the southern end of the only road (running 38 miles) through the park from Florida City.

Early years

The settlement received its name in 1893, when the settlers had to choose a name for their new post office. They chose the flamingo as the most distinctive bird seen in the area. While the flamingo did not breed in Florida, birds from Cuba and the Bahamas once traveled in large numbers to the area. Flamingos were last seen in large numbers in the area in 1902. The post office was closed in 1909.

After the end of the Seminole Wars there were scattered settlements on Cape Sable, including at Flamingo. The settlers made a living by providing fish, fresh vegetables and charcoal to Key West.

Life in Flamingo could be unpleasant. Leverett White Brownell, a naturalist, visited Flamingo in 1893. He described the village of 38 "shacks" on stilts as infested with fleas and mosquitos. He claimed to have seen an oil lamp extinguished by a cloud of mosquitoes. He also stated that flea powder was the "staff of life" and that the cabins were thickly sooted from the use of smudge pots. He added that tomatoes, asparagus and eggplant were the principal crops.

Flamingo had a small boom in the early 20th century when speculators thought that Henry Flagler would choose a route for his Florida East Coast Railway across Florida Bay to Key West. A fish house was built in Flamingo in 1908, and fishing became the primary occupation of the town. The Ingraham Highway from Homestead reached Flamingo in 1922, but was poorly maintained and virtually impassable in wet weather until the National Park Service gave it a gravel top in the late 1940s. During prohibition moonshining became a major occupation in Flamingo, but was eventually suppressed by government agents.

A trail called the Snake Bight Trail provides an alternative pedestrian access to the sea to the east of Flamingo, but its two-mile length is notorious for the number and ferocity of the mosquitos.

Another pleasant trail is the Christian Point Trail. It leads through open saltwater marl prairie to Christian Point. The area got its name, so they say, when it was used as a mass grave after the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 washed numerous dead bodies from the Keys ashore.

Flamingo today

The residents of Flamingo were relocated shortly after the creation of the National Park. Through the second half of the 20th century, Flamingo consisted of the Flamingo Lodge (open year-round), a restaurant and cafe (open only during the winter months), a marina, a store, a gift shop (open only during the winter months), a few houses for park rangers and a campground. However, most of these facilities were severely damaged or destroyed in 2005 by storm surges up to 9 feet during Hurricane Wilma. The marina and store have reopened, but are currently limited to daytime activity only. Currently there are three new plans to increase eco-tourism with improvements to Flamingo, two of which include rebuilding the destroyed facilities. All plans include keeping the historic gas station and Mission 66 visitor center facility. Also, handicap access will be added, and employee housing and backwater chickees will be replaced in all three plans.

Flamingo is one of the interpretive centers of the Everglades National Park. Trails such as the Snake Bight Trail, Christian Point Trail, Rowdy Bend Trail and Coastal Prairie Trail allow visitors to experience the buttonwood, mangrove and coastal prairie ecosystems. Birders will enjoy a visit to Eco Pond. This is a man-made freshwater pond. (It is part of Flamingo's sewage treatment system.) As the largest body of freshwater in the saltwater area of the Everglades, it attracts birds in abundance. Formerly surrounded by invasive non-native Brazilian pepper bushes, the Park Service has recently done a great job in removing this alien weed and replacing it with native vegetation.

Visitors may also enjoy ranger led nature hikes, talks, "swamp tromps" where folks join rangers for a walk in the Everglades in water up to their knees, and weekend slide shows in the campground amphitheater. There are also narrated boat tours, including cruises on the beautiful schooner "the Windfall."

Canoes may be rented at the marina and a boat launch is available if you bring your own boat. Manatees and crocodiles are sometimes seen in the Buttonwood Canal. This is one of the few places in the United States where you can see American crocodiles. They can be distinguished from alligators, which are common elsewhere in the park, by the narrower snout, lighter color and "toothier" grin. (Alligators are black, crocs tend to browns.) Camping is available in the large campground, although electrical hook-ups are not available. Mosquitoes can be present any time of year, but in the winter months they are not a serious problem.

References

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