Saturday, June 23, 2018

Capt. Mitch Invites Tourism Back to the Everglades


Captain Mitch’s airboat outpost as seen from the water. Photo by Frank Steiger

Captain Mitch’s airboat outpost as seen from the water. Photo by Frank Steiger

Mitch House has spent his entire life wading through the red-tinged waters of the Everglades. He speaks with a slow, distinctly southern drawl, unique only to the small population of people born and raised out in the sawgrass marshes. Mitch is extremely knowledgeable about his hometown. He can tell you anything you need to know about the region, it’s history—both good and bad, and the characteristics that define it. Mitch, like many from the Glades, is in the airboat tour business.

The House family has called the Everglades home since the late 1800s, a point of pride for Mitch. In 1945 Mitch’s great grandfather, Barrel Head House, created one of the first commercial airboats, crudely constructed out of sheets of plywood and a sawed off jet propeller. The airboat, though primitive, ushered in a new era of commerce for the Everglades and the House family.

Everglades native Mitch House of Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours stands in front of his fleet of airboats. Photos by Frank Steiger

Everglades native Mitch House of Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours stands in front of his fleet of airboats. Photos by Frank Steiger

“From there we’ve always had airboats in the family,” Mitch said.

Mitch’s roots run deep with both the Glades and it’s most lucrative business: tourism. For the past 25 years Mitch has owned and operated Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours, a popular destination about 30 minutes east of Marco Island. The tour company sits in a stilt wooden building on top of the water, directly off of Tamiami Trail East. Underneath the office lives an eight-foot gator and to the left is the dock, where a fleet of airboats rest. It is picturesque, authentic and quaint—the epitome of the Everglades.

 

 

Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours offers informative airboat rides through the grasslands on which you’re bound to see alligators, native birds and flora. Many of Mitch’s airboat operators are also Everglades natives. Like Mitch, they are full of factoids and anecdotes about the area and its people. A handful of employees are even related to Mitch. 25-year-old tour guide Louis Daniels, for example, is his cousin.

 

 

Over the years Mitch has experienced more than his fair share of hurricanes. But compared to the rest, Hurricane Irma was pretty intense. According to Mitch, the last time the Everglades saw such extensive flooding was when Hurricane Donna hit in 1960.

“It’s been 57 years since we’ve had water this high,” Mitch said.

To prepare for the storm Mitch and his crew tied the airboats to trees out in the marshes, filled them with water and sunk them—a strategy his family has employed for years. Though it may seem somewhat counterintuitive, it works pretty well.

“My grandparents have been sinking them for years,” Mitch said. “If the wind can’t grab it, guess what? It can’t go nowhere.”

Thankfully, his airboats survived Irma. His business, however, did receive some mild damage. His sign fell during the storm as well as his tiki hut. It took a few weeks for power to return, holding up business further. But last week, after hours of cleanup and repairs in the hot Florida sun, Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours officially reopened for business.

An employee fixes Mitch’s sign, which was damaged during Hurricane Irma.

An employee fixes Mitch’s sign, which was damaged during Hurricane Irma.

Many have wondered how the Everglades, namely Everglades City and Chokoloskee, have faired since Hurricane Irma tore through the region a few weeks ago. Though it hasn’t been easy, the area is in the process of recovery.

For Mitch, and the many others like him, his livelihood is dependent on the tourism industry. It’s extremely important for businesses to reopen and the influx of tourists to return. A point Mitch wanted to get across was that though devastation did occur, the Everglades survived.

 

 

“The Everglades is alive,” Mitch said. “We’re not dead down here.”

Read more about Capt. Mitch and the history of the Everglades in an upcoming issue.

Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours is located at 31000 Tamiami Trail E., Naples. They’re open seven days a week from 8:30 AM-5 PM. For more information visit www.captainmitchs.com or call 239-695-3377.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *