BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. - Despite looming uncertainty surrounding Everglades Wonder Gardens, the park's new director is looking for opportunities to keep the facility afloat. Today's "Ghost in the Gardens" event wasn't just a way to celebrate Halloween, but a way to let people know the park is still open.
Landscape photographer John Brady took over the Gardens when the previous owners put it up for sale last spring after 77 years in business. Brady is transforming the park from an exotic zoo into a botanical garden.
"It's an 80-year-old Florida jungle," he said. "We have a beautiful piece of Americana that needs to be cherished and nurtured and that's what we want to do."
Brady took out several of the tall, chain-link fences where exotic animals used to be kept, and renovated new garden areas, nature paths and education exhibits.
Despite the new renovations and the hours of work Brady has put into the Gardens, all of it could be gone in an instant. Brady is leasing the property while it's for sale, which means any buyer could come in, purchase it and transform it into something entirely different.
"There's always risk and we knew when we took this project on it was a risky project, but a worth-while project," he said.
Brady is working to create a non-profit organization for Everglades Wonder Gardens and hopes once that happens, someone will purchase it and preserve the spot permanently.
"It represents a piece of Florida history so it's very important to me to see this keep going," Brady said.
Visitors today welcomed the park's new changes and many hope to see it continue to flourish.
"You miss the animals but it's good to see than animals not in cages," said Danielle Sazenski, who visits the Gardens every time she travels to Florida from Ireland. "It looks fabulous I think."
The Everglades Wonder Gardens is open daily from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and costs $12 for adults, $7 for kids ages 3 - 10, and free for kids under 3.
For more information, and for information about volunteering, visit: http://www.evergladeswondergardens.net/ or call 239-992-2591.