In 1936, brothers Bill and Lester Piper established The Reptile Gardens as a tourist attraction along the newly-built Tamiami Trail from Tampa to Miami. It was a place where visitors could marvel at the wildlife wonders of Southwest Florida.
As the animal and botanical exhibits grew, the attraction’s name was changed to the Everglades Wonder Gardens to better reflect the experience available to guests. The Gardens also became known for its wildlife rehabilitation programs. For three generations under the ownership of the Piper family, the Gardens captured the nostalgia, history and wonder of Florida augmented with trees and plants from around the world.
In early 2013, the Piper family discontinued operations of the Gardens and began to seek a new owner. At that time, landscape photographer John Brady and his family leased the property from the Pipers and refreshed the Gardens. Mr. Brady managed the business while helping form a not-for-profit organization dedicated to saving the Everglades Wonder Gardens.
In 2014, a group of local residents formed the Bonita Wonder Gardens Inc., a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. With generous financial assistance, in the form of a $3.5 million loan from the City of Bonita Springs, the new organization was able to purchase the property and business assets from the Piper family in April 2015, saving it from potential commercial development. Thus began a new chapter for this beloved historic attraction.
While preserving the very best of the 80-year old cultural icon, the non-profit is restoring wildlife enclosures, nurturing the botanical beauty of the property, adding education programs, offering volunteer opportunities and further engaging the community to enjoy this jewel in downtown Bonita Springs. Today, the Gardens are home to rescued birds and reptiles nestled among the old growth plants.
Click here to download view a slideshow on the history of the Everglades Wonder Gardens.