While there are no words to fully capture the triumphs and challenges of the last year, I thought it was important to share with you, our extended Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge family, a little insight into what was going on behind the scenes with our family and the BPKFL during what has been a pivotal moment in our history. Mother Nature handed us our biggest challenge yet in Hurricane Irma. Over our 42-plus years in business, the property has weathered many storms, but none have come close to the scope of damage delivered by Hurricane Irma on September 10, 2018.
During and after the storm, Facebook became the way we kept in touch with our extended BPKFL family, providing updates and sharing critical information about the recovery. Looking back at these posts now, you can see the story of Hurricane Irma as it unfolded for us, in real time. It is the raw nature of these posts that make them an important part of our history, worth remembering and reflecting upon for years to come.
Our first Facebook post related to Hurricane Irma was made on September 5. Our family – like yours – spent that day carefully watching a monster storm build that seemed to be headed our way. At this point, no one knew where she would strike, but we knew her strength and size would leave her mark wherever she wandered. If only we could have seen into the future we would have known that Irma had her sights set squarely on Big Pine Key.
Facebook post: September 5, 2017
UPDATE FROM THE BPKFL: Hurricane Irma is expected to visit the Florida Keys and we are busy planning for her arrival. To fully prepare, guests and staff will be asked to evacuate and we will be closed tomorrow, Wednesday, September 5th. We will reopen once we are given the “all-clear” to do so. If you have any questions, feel free to call the BPKFL office at 305-872-2351. To everyone here in the Keys, please take extra care to secure yourself and stay safe. See you on the other side!
Once it was clear that the storm would directly impact Big Pine Key, our entire team sprang into action, buttoning up the property and securing everything we could against the storm. Still, we held out hope that the storm would make a last minute detour and spare us. By Friday, September 8, we had done all we could do and evacuated. While a few brave souls would stay behind to weather the storm, most of our family, staff, and neighbors followed the mandatory evacuation order and left the Keys.
Our departure kicked off what would be the hardest part of the entire ordeal for our family: not knowing the state of the island, our homes, or the property that has been the center of our family’s life for over 40 years. By the time this post was made on September 10, all we knew was that the island suffered a direct hit. We had no news from anyone that had stayed behind or any idea how bad the damage had been. These were tense, dark days for everyone, including our guests.
Facebook post: September 10, 2017
Dear Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge Family,
First, on behalf of our entire family, I want to thank you for your prayers and well wishes. If there was ever any doubt about your dedication and love for the Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge, the past few days have proven that your heart is truly with us. The sheer volume of people that have offered to come down and help after the storm was a great source of comfort to us all and we appreciate all the love that you have shown.
As we move to assess the damage to our homes and the property, here is what we need from each of you:
• Please DO NOT come down until we post on Facebook that we are ready for your visit. We understand that you are concerned about your trailers, but ask you to help us by staying home until you get all the all-clear. We need to be 100% focused on getting things safe and secured before any non-BPKFL staff are allowed on the property.
• As much as we are deeply moved by your offers to help out, we will reach out on Facebook once we know better what we need.
• Once we have secured the property, we will invite guests to come and see their trailers. If you come before this time, there will be no staff to assist you and it is likely that there will be very little in the way of infrastructure or resources to sustain you.
• If you have a future reservation, we will reach out to you as soon as we have our computers and phones operational.
We will do our best to post pictures of the property so you can stay updated on our progress. With your support, there is no doubt we will get through this storm like we have the others. Know that our first priority is restoring and preserving this little slice of paradise so that you and your family are able to come back for many more generations to create memories that will last a lifetime.
By this September 19 post we were able to access the property and assess the damage. Pictures could not do justice to the extent of the damage and we knew – as many of you would find out during your first visit – that very little remained intact from what had once been. Walking the property in those first few days were heartbreaking, but also moving. Our family, our staff, and our guests, took strength from one another. Throughout it all, Joan was steadfast and never wavered in her optimism or enthusiasm to tackle the challenge ahead.
Facebook post: September 19, 2017
Dear Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge Family,
We have experienced many emotions as we walked the property that has been the center of our family’s life over the last 40+ years. As we move forward to assess the damage and put things back together, know that your support has been appreciated by every member of the family. Many of you have inquired about Joan, so let me just say that she is safe, and more than ready to tackle the rebuild with all the energy and optimism you would expect.
I can confirm that the damage to the property is extensive. There is not a single building or tree that was unaffected by the storm; and in many cases that damage is beyond repair. Several buildings are likely a total loss, and there is not a single RV that appears to have weathered the storm intact.
We are in the process of formulating a plan to tackle the damage. That plan may take several days to take shape, and even longer to execute, but here is the update on where we are as of today:
• All RVs are totaled. Once we are able to clear the larger, more dangerous debris, we will turn our attention to RVs. At that time, you will be able to come and retrieve your personal property. If you have insurance on your RV, please contact them and we will do our best to connect the adjuster with your RV. Once our computers are up and running we will contact every person with an RV in storage to make these arrangements.
• If you have a future reservation, we will reach out to you as soon as we have our computers and phones operational. I am hoping to get the computer into Christa’s hands tomorrow so she can begin this process.
• We are still asking that no one plan to visit at this time. The property is largely inaccessible and still unsafe.
• Please note: There are no services on the island – no water, sewage, power and very limited supplies. The National Guard is here and has secured every neighborhood to make sure no one but residents are able to access their own neighborhoods. While this oversight will eventually relax, right now visitors have very limited access to move in and around Big Pine.
Yesterday was a tough day, but our entire family remains firmly committed to rebuilding this property that we love so much. We will continue to post regularly to keep you updated. Thank you for your patience as we work to get our arms around the large, multi-layered challenge ahead.
What a difference a week or two makes! By September 28, we had managed to get our heads around the extent of the damage and were beginning to get a recovery plan together. The road ahead was a little clearer and we were all excited to make progress.
Facebook post: September 28, 2017
Dear Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge Family,
I am happy to report that the clean-up effort has officially begun. While we don’t have an official plan for the upcoming season, we have started the process of moving debris to the road for pick up. The island is still in recovery, and it has been heartwarming to see the outpouring of support services that have been available as Big Pine Key begins the process of rebuilding. From hot meals to assistance filing paperwork, in a time of crisis, the American people have united to support each other.
For those of you that had RVs in storage, please know that we are working hard to give you the information you need to begin salvaging your property and/or moving forward with insurance claims. At this point in the recovery process, access to the RVs stored on the main BPKFL property is still impossible. For the RVs stored at our off-site location, access is possible and we have been working with adjusters (on a case by case basis), to provide the access and information they need to move forward. If you do not know where your property was stored, or if you want to arrange a time for you or your adjuster to access the RVs located at our off-site storage location, please email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org. To try and see your trailer view our Irma Trailer Storage photo album.
We know that accessing your property is a priority and are working hard to make the RVs stored on the main property available as soon as possible. Our phones and internet are still down at this time, but Christa is monitoring our email so please reach out to her at email@example.com if you have any questions. Thank you for your continued support and patience as we continue to eat this elephant, one bite at a time.
Once the dust settled, it was clear that not a single RV on the property had survived without damage. This post from October 6 began the process of recovery for our guests as they moved to recover their property, file their insurance claims, and find new RVs. This photo by Brenda perfectly captured both the destruction and our hopes to rebuild.
Facebook post: October 6, 2017
Dear Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge family,
Of all the upsetting realizations of the recent hurricane, the damage to our guest’s RVs has been particularly heartbreaking. We know that each damaged RV represents the memories and hopes of some of our favorite people on the planet, and we feel the loss of every single one.
We have reached the next phase of clean-up which is the removal of damaged RVs and cargo trailers. Crane operators have untangled them and made them accessible so owners can retrieve their personal belongings. We are asking guests to contact Christa at fishinglodge@BPKFL.com to schedule a time to come down prior to October 22 and remove any items they wish to save.
The deadline for removing personal property is Sunday, October 22. At that time, the disposal of all RVs and cargo trailers will be handled by a third-party contractor. Insurance should cover the cost, but if you do not have insurance, disposal will cost $500 payable to BPKFL.
FOR CARGO TRAILERS ONLY: If you are unable to come down until after the October 22 deadline, please be advised that you will be 100% responsible for all fees related to disposing of your cargo trailer. These fees could total up to, or exceed, $1200 per trailer. This option is NOT available for RVs; all RVs must ready for disposal by the October 22 deadline.
Please be advised: No lodging is available at the BPKFL. The property is still unsafe for guests and we are unable to host any RVs at this time.
Recovery can be painful, but we remain confident that we will back in each other’s company again. This tough time will be the catalyst for new friends and new memories to come.
Photo courtesy of Brenda Scanlon
By October 24, we had our sights set on re-opening the property to our long-standing winter guest family. This was truly a momentous milestone for everyone at the BPKFL – – we could not have been happier to prepare for your return. One of the best feelings was answering emails and phone calls confirming that our guests were on their way home to Big Pine Key. There are no words to capture our emotions during this time – – exhausted from weeks of around the clock work, overwhelmed with so much more to do, and pure unadulterated excitement to welcome you back again.
Facebook post: October 24, 2017
Winter is coming!
The Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge will be open for business on November 20. To confirm your winter reservation please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org by November 5 with the following information:
• First and last name
• Arrival date
• Departure date
• Size/make of RV
• Telephone number
This will be a soft opening and many of our usual amenities will not be available. Before you confirm your reservation, please carefully review the following list to ensure you have a clear understanding of what you can expect from your stay. These limited amenities will include:
• Our usual store/office is closed (some drinks, ice, bait, etc. will be available in a temporary mobile office)
• Limited or no laundry (a laundromat is open next to the Winn Dixie)
• No back docks
• Limited boat slips
• Reduced number of picnic tables
• Charcoal grills available near the store only
• Swimming pool will be open without awnings
• No observation deck
• The fish cleaning table up front will be the only one available
• A greatly altered nature trail
• Pool bar may or may not be open
• Some – but not all – of the activities you love
• Holiday parties: there will be some kind of gathering, but NOT the traditional, homemade dinners you have grown to love
• Rec room will be open, but there may/may not be pool table/ping pong, etc.
• TV/internet services should be available by the opening, or soon after
And what remains the same:
• Spectacular sunsets/sunrises, salt air, ocean, fishing, and amazing stargazing
• Key Deer still roam the property
• Complimentary coffee every morning
• Boat trailer storage will be available as usual
• Liar’s Bench, old friends to greet, new friends to meet, and stories to share!
To thank you for your support and patience, we are offering an additional 20% discount for guests staying with us anytime between November 20 and December 19. After December 19, rates will return to normal.
There are no words to express how excited we are to be able to host you this winter. There will be bumps and inconveniences along the way, but we are confident that we will come through it, as we always have: together.
As November 20 got closer, it was important to be realistic about what guests could expect when they arrived. This post from November 8 was a reality check for us, and for our guests. Looking back, it is incredible to see how far we had come since the storm hit, and how much was still left to do.
Facebook post: November 8, 2017
Dear Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge Family,
We are still on track to re-open on November 20. Here is an update on where we are today:
• Doing the final pass on the roads and debris removal
• Tree trimming should be completed this week
• Pool should be back up and running in the next few days
• No laundry service will be available when we open
• Crafts/activities/exercise you love will be available
• No games in the rec room
• Picnic tables are very limited
• The normal store will NOT be open – we will have a temporary structure with very limited resources
• Fuel will not be available on 11/20, but hopefully will be back up and running in December.
• No boats this winter in the back basin
• Work will be going on throughout your stay – be prepared now to be patient as we continue our efforts to get the property back up and running
With the limited resources and boat slips, the best way to get on the water this year might be to share a boat with a friend. Consider buddying up with another boat owner to maximize your time on the water.
IMPORTANT: TV/internet will not be available as of November 20 and may not be functional until mid-December. If you require internet service, check with your cell phone provider. They may be able to give you access to the internet for a nominal fee.
And of course, as always, we will have plenty of spectacular sunsets/sunrises, salt air, ocean, fishing, and amazing star gazing, Key deer, FREE coffee each morning, boat trailer storage, the Liar’s bench, old friends to greet, new friends to meet, and stories to share! We look forward to seeing each and every one of you in a couple of weeks for another wonderful winter season at the BPKFL.
Once the guests arrived, we settled into our new normal. Thanksgiving and Christmas were a potluck affair, and everyone pitched in to make the holidays special. Looking back at those first few months we were open, one thing is very clear: we could not have done it without the unwavering support of each and every one our guests. From adapting to new ways of doing things without complaint to rolling up your sleeves and jumping right into the fray alongside us, there was never any doubt that you were in it with us. Mentally, emotionally, and physically, there are no words to convey the comfort we derived from your support during those early days.
This post from February 12 was not only a chance to update everyone on the progress being made on the property but an opportunity to reflect on what the winter had taught us: that there is nothing we can’t overcome when we work together.
Facebook post: February 12, 2018
Dear Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge family,
It has been a while since we did a park update, so we wanted to give you the latest and greatest about our goings on, here on the ground, in Big Pine Key. The good news is that winter season is in full swing, our extended family is back, and we are adjusting to a new normal that might have less of the bells and whistles we want, but has all of the good stuff that makes BPKFL such a special place to be. So, here it is, an update on where we are today:
• The back docks are in the permitting process. Our goal was to have the back boat basin open by summer, but unfortunately, our timeline is dictated by the county.
• Motels 1 – 6 are still standing, but we have no date on when the rebuilding process will start or if rebuilding them is even an option. Insurance, permitting and budget are the primary factors here, and we will update you as we know more.
• Motels 7 – 11 have been completely demolished and made into parking for the time being. There is no timeline for the replacement of these units.
• Motels 12 -16 are fully-functioning and being rented nightly.
• We are working on reopening the laundry room. Machines have been ordered, but retooling at the factory means we are expecting another 4 – 6 weeks before we receive our machines.
• Our next major project will be the store. It has already been remediated and is ready for reconstruction.
Thanks to weekly clean-ups organized by you, our extended BPKFL family, most of our surrounding wetlands are now free of debris. Wildlife is starting to return, and the clean, open spaces are a wonderful sign of progress in the midst of the on-going quest to get the property back to normal. This is especially meaningful to us because – with the long list of things we have to get done on a given day – there was no plan in place for how or when our staff was going to be able to accomplish this on our own.
We often talk about what we don’t have in these updates, so I want to mention something we do have: a tremendous spirit of companionship and gratefulness. For any shortcomings we may have had this year, our guests have come together to fill the gaps. Despite our challenges, it has been wonderful to be together, and our guests have once again shown themselves to be the heart of BPKFL. Thank you for being willing to roll up your sleeves and put yourself into the thick of it – we are grateful to have you working alongside us as we put one foot in front of the other in our on-going journey towards recovery.
As we look ahead, I am proud of what we have accomplished and optimistic about what the future will bring. Our first post-Irma summer has begun, and I am sure it will bring with it its own challenges and triumphs. From where I sit today, I see nothing but blue skies ahead. No matter what, we are together, we have each other, and we have the choice to see the road ahead as bright and beautiful. Our hope is that the property will come back from Irma stronger and better than ever, but that we will always retain what really makes this place on earth so special: our memories, our friendships, and time together.