Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Everglades Wonder Gardens Version 2.0: roadside classic to re-open soon

When I first visited Everglades Wonder Gardens, I was charmed and enthralled by this attraction that was seemingly untouched by time. Bypassed by a new alignment of US 41, the vintage park seemed like a relic from the era when mom and pop roadside attractions dotted the blue highways of the sunshine state. I even reached out to the Piper family who owned the park, to see if I could be of assistance in marketing this old Florida gem. So I was sad to hear earlier this year that David Piper had decided to close the park after nearly 80 years of operation.

A few weeks ago I heard from John Brady, a photographer who takes amazing large format nature photographs that I've often posted on my Old Florida Facebook page. He has a space in southwest Florida for showing his work called Everglades Gallery. John called to tell me he was in negotiations with Bill Piper to lease Everglades Wonder Gardens in order to transform it to botanical gardens, with a museum and fine art gallery. His plan is to keep some of the smaller reptiles and flamingos but focus much of his energies on the beautiful tropical landscaping that exists throughout the park. He would also move his gallery into the space currently taken up by the gift shop.

I was thrilled to hear the Gardens would get this new lease on life and signed on to support John in any way I could. There are far too few places like this remaining, and I think the changes he has planned will honor the park's heritage while bringing it into alignment with 21st century values. Most of the animals have been sold off by the Pipers and Gatorland is taking the large alligators and crocodiles. John plans to have exhibit space for other artists and create an open area for outdoor concerts.

The iconic flamingos would remain • photo by John Brady

Brady plans to emphasize the mature tropical landscaping
found throughout the park • photo by John Brady

John Brady with his camera at the Gardens

Much of the wonderful museum will remain intact • photo by John Brady

Brady has new plans for the swinging bridge and alligator lagoon
photo by John Brady

Here is the press release John Brady issued:

Local Artist John Brady and family to operate the Everglades Wonder Gardens

Bonita Springs, FL (May 30, 2013) - Internationally-recognized local photographer John Brady and family will operate the Everglades Wonder Gardens in the Historic District of Bonita Springs.

The park will remain under the ownership of the Piper family but will be maintained and operated by the Brady family. The park will undergo some changes, putting it in line with Brady’s expertise and vision. The larger animals have been moved to other facilities throughout the country. David Piper placed each animal in the best possible facility. The old roadside attractions of the blue highways have been disappearing across the country, and the Brady family refuses to let the Everglades Wonder Gardens become another casualty of our changing America.

The Everglades Wonder Gardens have been a focal point of Bonita Springs since 1936 when Bill and Lester Piper created the facility to rehabilitate injured animals. The park has remained in the Piper family ever since and has become a place for visitors to enjoy the botanical gardens and see Florida’s wildlife in an intimate way, something that modern parks cannot provide. On April 21st 2013, the animal park was closed due to the health issues of David Piper, Lester Piper’s grandson.

The new EWG will focus on the botanical gardens, which has some of the most unique species of both native and exotic specimens from South America. The park will appeal to the many visitors that frequent Southwest Florida from all over the world, and will also have a focus on the local community and its residents. The history and heritage of the gardens is of great importance and Brady will continue to uphold its legacy through the operation of a museum in the main building. There will also be an art gallery featuring the work of Brady as well as some other prominent local artists. Brady’s images are from the swamps, creeks, and coastal areas of the Florida less traveled. The main building will also have gifts and souvenirs.

The new Everglades Wonder Gardens features a world-class botanical garden, native animal species, and Florida-themed fine art. This Florida roadside tradition since 1936 has recently undergone a change in management. Now operated by John Brady, Everglades Wonder Gardens is conveniently located in downtown Bonita Springs. Our address is:
 27180 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs, Florida 34135

Please contact John Brady 239-273-5813 or

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Finding the Fountain of Youth" book launch

In some ways it seemed like this week would never arrive; in other ways it seems like I was just meeting with my publisher to start my book. One dream came true this week, when I saw my book featured at the Barnes and Noble near my house. Another will come true next Saturday at the official launch of "Finding the Fountain of Youth" at Urban ReThink near downtown Orlando.

Seeing my book displayed in the History section at Barnes and Nobles felt hugely rewarding...

I asked the clerk to take a picture of me with the book and she asked me to sign them all!

Urban ReThink used to be the Urban Think bookstore, one of the last independent bookstores in Orlando. During the bookstore's brief existence they sold my Florida Roadside Retro calendars, and for that I will always be grateful. Located in the hip Thornton Park District east of Lake Eola, the space at Urban ReThink seems like the perfect venue for the launch.

The informal atmosphere of Urban ReThink

If you are in the Orlando, area next Saturday, May 18th please join me for the celebration of my book. I plan to do a slideshow with fun images and describe how this book came into being. This will be my first opportunity to speak about the content of the book, (outside of Toastmasters at least), and I look forward to testing out the material. The event goes from 3-5 pm. and parking is available here.

Also next week, my publisher will be giving away five free books in celebration of the launch on their Facebook page. And on Thursday at 9 am I will be on Patrick Greene's ReThinking the City radio show on Rollins College's WPRK.

I hope you are able to join me in marking the beginning of the life of this book and a milestone in my own journey.