Longtime visitors to Flamingo in Everglades National Park have witnessed the gradual and unfortunate decline of the physical condition of the district's facilities after Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005. Many of these visitors have been waiting more than a decade to see some improvements in this vital fishing outpost they have grown to love.

Now, their hopes are becoming a reality thanks to the Partners in Preservation campaign, launched Wednesday, sponsored by the South Florida National Parks Trust for Everglades National Park to restore the Flamingo Visitor Center, complete with a new coat of "Flamingo Pink" paint.

Vote Everglades

The project is supported by American Express, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Geographic and the public. The Everglades is one of 20 national parks competing for $2 million in grant funding from the National Trust. Grants will be awarded to parks that earn the most public votes during an online voting campaign from May 25 to July 5.

If the Everglades is selected as one of the winners, it may receive up to $250,000, said Penelope Del Bene, chief of cultural resources for Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks.

"This is a great opportunity," she said. "We've been working on this for about three months now from when we were officially approached. We developed a proposal that will address some of the preservation needs for the exterior of Flamingo and its cultural landscape. Some of the things we're hoping to do are to preserve the railing for the visitor center, which will include the railing on the ramp, the breezeway and the stairwell. We also are looking to preserve the masonry wall that's around the administrative area of the Visitor Center, along with the rock salt finished concrete walkway underneath the center."

The Flamingo proposal incorporates the "Mission 66" concept that underpinned the early 1960s program to modernize national parks for a new generation of visitors. The Flamingo Visitor Center was built as a part of this innovative movement to build administrative buildings, roads and trails, campgrounds and visitor centers.

Del Bene said that if funded, the Flamingo effort will focus on the Visitor Center's exterior and immediate surrounding cultural landscape, enhancing the sweeping vistas of Florida Bay that were part of the original cultural design of the 1960s.

One goal is to deal with vegetation that virtually has grown unchecked for some time. For example, the proposal calls for reversing the negative impact of some root systems on the integrity of the structure, she said. Some plants that were part of the original design have disappeared, and other plants that were not in the plan are proliferating. Changes will be made where they are practical.

"One of the things about Flamingo when it was originally designed was the intent to have a minimalistic architecture and cultural landscape that enabled the visitor to experience Florida Bay," Del Bene said. "So, that it enhanced the views of Florida Bay when you arrived. It wasn't the Visitor Center and its cultural landscape that you focused on so much but Florida Bay.

"The hope is to bring that back. Some of the trees are pretty tall, so we want to address those trees where we open it up in the manner it was originally designed to be. Other things that we will be doing will deal with damage from natural wear and tear in this environment."

Del Bene said that when writing the grant proposal, park officials considered each of Flamingo's "Mission 66" facilities, including the iconic gas station, staff housing and the marina store. In consultation with SFNPT, they decided that refurbishing the Visitor Center's exterior would be the most economically feasible while offering the greatest number of benefits to the park and to visitors.

Excitement for the plan is high in the park. The challenge now, though, is to get the public involved.

"Everglades National Park needs everyone to get behind this project, to help restore the Flamingo Visitor Center and create support for a larger rebuilding effort in Flamingo," said Pedro Ramos, superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks.

To receive the funding to restore the Flamingo Visitor Center, the park and the SFNPT are encouraging everyone to go to www.voteyourpark.org and cast a ballot for the Everglades. Individuals can vote once a day for their favorite projects through July 5.

Bill Maxwell is a volunteer writer for the National Park Service.

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