Prologue....Jerry Moore passed away December 6, 2016
Joan and I first camped at Outdoor Resorts at Chokoloskee in December, 1985. We had been camping in our VW camper in the Keys when we stopped at Chokoloskee to check out the Good Sam Park. We then decided to check out Outdoor Resorts, and they rented us a space next to Satellite #2 even though our unit was not consistent with the rules. We called the next year, and we were told that our VW did not comply with the rules, but we stopped by anyway and they rented us a lot. Eventually we bought a lot in 1995 and became ORA owners for the next twenty years.
We have sold our lot and regretfully left the resort at the end of March, 2015. This is not an exact history of ORA since our records blew away with Hurricane Wilma! I invite others to amend, append and/or correct these reflections--I am certain that I have some dates wrongly remembered. I hope these reflections are useful to others.
The Early Years
Glennis and Elizabeth Murray tell me that they came to the Brown’s Fish Camp in the 1950’s--I believe one year after the causeway was built in 1955. Don and Doris Schoonmaker began camping in Browns Camp around 1976. Glennis and Doris would have a world of knowledge of that period.
There was a second camp also located on the grounds of the modern ORA. Sometime around 1983 the sponsoring company in Nashville, Tennessee founded Outdoor Resorts of America at Chokoloskee Incorporated. Outdoor Resorts, having created numerous resorts around the country, formed each resort as a separate corporation to avoid linking liabilities. I assume that they purchased the former fish camp from the Brown family.
Reflections: 30 Years at ORA, Jerry and Joan Moore, Lot 76
The developer began selling lots in 1984 when the north side of the resort was finished. When we camped there in 1985, the south side was still being completed although lots were already being sold. I believe that they offered to sell us lots at $90,000 on the Bay, $60,000 on the lake, and $25,000 for inland lots.
The developer had three actions going on--the first to complete and sell out ORA, second to build and sell out Sunset Cove, and third to create the commercial center around the motel/marina/sales office. The developer created a plot map of the Resort (which they did not always follow accurately), and according to Collier County they never filed a development plan.
Several issues arose in the early planning. Chokoloskee Island is surrounded by some 35’ of water claimed by Collier County, the National Park claims up to the sea wall, and the Florida Department of Underwater Resources claimed everything underwater. Bay lot owners constructed decks and docks that extended into the water--at one point fines (or fees) had to be paid (to Collier County I believe) for permission to keep the docks.
The developer had always planned to open up the inland lake to the Bay making them water lots. Since that area had been used as a dump in earlier camps, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection refused to permit opening the lake to the Bay. Hence, lots planned as Bay lots became lake lots which required planning for boat access to the Bay.
After initial tries, the boat lift was constructed at considerable expense to the developer. The lake and the lift became limited common elements for use by authorized owners on the lake. The developer offered to give the lift to ORA but it was refused by the Board, raising questions for later boards.
The developer provided condominium documents to each owner specifying the rules, governance for the Resort, and rights reserved to the developer. Of course one of the important rights reserved was 99 year control of lot rentals--all unoccupied lots were subject to rental by the developer with a 50/50 share with the owner. The Resort was administered by a Resort Manager (and staff) who supervised the Marina/Motel, sales, and the building of Sunset Cove. Gary Deane was manager for several years, and he had the responsibly of issuing permits for changes to lots, permitting RVs and their location on lots, and preparing budgets with the Board. Sunset Cove was to have 24 units of which only 18 were completed.
Our Well Water Turned Brackish
The developer built a sewer plant and a well to provide water and sewer services to ORA, the motel and Sunset Cove. The well became brackish quite early and Everglades City agreed to provide water to and within the Resort. The sewer plant continued operation until 2002 when Everglades City provided a sewer line to Chokoloskee Island. We agreed to maintain our own sewer lines within the Resort with the City pumping the sewage out of our collection basin (more about this later.) The other utilities--electric, phone and cable--were provided by outside companies. Those lines ran through the easement behind each lot.
Rules and rule enforcement were significant issues early in Resort history. Just as Joan and I were permitted to break the rules in 1985-6, sheds, docks and plantings were often located in violation of the rules. When the developer turned over control to the ORA Board sometime around 1990, administration of the Resort was provided by a management company (named something like Sunrise Management). Even as a renter, I remember comments that that company was only experienced in managing condos and did not understand RV resorts.
Wilma brought a wall of Bay water and mud across the island some six feet deep--almost every trailer in the Resort was destroyed. Many utility posts were destroyed so LCEC cut off electricity. Water and sewer were shut down. Thanks to Ken Dampier Jr, Resort Manager, he quickly acted to restore the Resort. He and his staff cleared the extensive debris that overwhelmed all of the fences, brought in Bobcat operators to clear mud from the streets and lots, and acted to provide for debris from the lots and RVs to be piled out front to be hauled away. .
Hurricane Wilma was the greatest trauma of our time--destroying lots, buildings, RVs, boats, and nearly everything in its path. The clean-up was an immense challenge. We shared overall costs and pitched in with our own labor. We survived and rebuilt, but what a mess!