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The Shell Factory battling through on post-Ian recovery

All animals survived, all facilities open as attraction re-opened in
Posted at 8:48 PM, May 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-18 20:53:13-04

NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. — The sign is iconic.

Yet even the 1960s-era sign that welcomes people to The Shell Factory, in North Fort Myers, aged faster than a gerbil from Hurricane Ian last September.

"It took us until (mid-April) to even get a big to repair the sign." said Jim Wells, the property manager at The Shell Factory. "Now it's a challenge to come up with the money to pay for it."

Wells said the cost is "about $200,000" and he did find a repair to keep the style similar.

"We were very fortunate the actual inside structure of the sign was not damaged as bad as it looks."

That is a common theme all over The Shell Factory after the damage from the hurricane. Park leaders said all of the animals at the nature park survived and that only one building did not withstand the force of Ian.

"It's important (people) come visit us, especially during the summer, because we need their help to re-vitalize is," said Pam Cronin, the owner of The Shell Factory since 1996.

The people are coming back. Drive by any Thursday morning and the cars - and the crowds - fill the grounds for the weekly flea market. The fish fry is back on for Friday nights at the Southern Cafe.

Handling the combination of costs from September until guests returned in December with also repairing the damage is quite an undertaking.

"Most of our guests seem to be very understanding but I think what people don't realize is, the three months that we were closed, the one thing that never changed for the Nature Park was the expense of feeding the animals," said Karen Schneider, the nature park director at The Shell Factory.

Schneider notes that visitors might get considered if they don't see water out in the open in some of the exhibits.

"It's tucked undernath to keep ti cooled and keep it getting like hot tea," said Schneider.

The one element any frequent visitor to the Nature Park may see right away is less shade. Hurricane Ian took out plenty of trees, branches and foliage. After crews cleaned that up, park leaders do say this could lead to a deeper look at how to best proceed with the park for the upcoming years.

Before the storm, Wells said, "we couldn't really see from one side of (the park) to the other."

"Now, we can see things and possibilities that we didn't even know existed," said Wells. "You've had to kind of step back and re-assess everything but it gave us the opportunity to do that right now."

Expect to see some new paint colors throughout the area as well, Wells said.

With the rebuilding and the costs, park leaders also note some of the donations on their list that would help immensely. Along with money, sponsorships and even materials like screening - for the habitat — lumber, rakes, shovels, blankets, towels, even bird food.

"The community support has been amazing and we're so excited about that," said Cronin.