Everglades Shines at grand opening event

Villagers explore Everglades Recreation Complex, the newest recreation amenity, during the opening-day events.

Everglades Recreation Complex is officially open for enjoyment — and plenty of it.

Residents flocked in droves Friday to the newest — and largest — recreation amenity ever unveiled by The Villages Developer, taking the opportunity to explore and experience the 50-acre complex as part of a fun-filled grand opening celebration. Attendees not only toured the 32,000-square-foot Everglades Recreation Center, soaking in its national park-themed art, but had the opportunity to play softball, race remote-control cars and more at the complex’s various facilities for sports and activities.

Everglades is adjacent to Florida’s Turnpike and north of Warm Springs Avenue in the Village of Marsh Bend.

John Rohan, director of The Villages Recreation and Parks Department, helped get the fun started Friday by emceeing the ribbon-cutting ceremony for The Villages’ newest recreation marvel.

“It’s just a great day for our residents and for our community because this will be another venue for residents to be able to engage and enjoy lifestyle activities and programs,” Rohan said. “This is just the start of a day that will provide endless lifestyle opportunities for our residents.”

In addition to a recreation center with meeting rooms, a theater and a sales-and-information center, Everglades features a sports pool, softball fields, a multipurpose sports field, basketball, pickleball, platform tennis, bocce, shuffleboard, corn toss, a remote-control car range and even a multipurpose pond dock for remote-control boats.

“It’s not every senior community that has a race track or dedicated mini-motorboat course,” said Robert North, of the Village of St. Charles.

Robert and his wife, Georgette, had come down for Robert to play in the soccer demonstration on the multipurpose field, and then they toured the rest of the facilities.

“I really like the Everglades Recreation Center interior,” Georgette said. “It will help me plan my next vacation.”

Devon Wiechens, The Villages director of commercial design, came up with the national park theme for the new complex.

“I had just spent some time in a national park and we had not done that theme,” Wiechens said. “It’s so exciting to see it all come together, and then to be here with all of these people and see their reactions is amazing.”

Gail and Mike Steele, of the Village of Marsh Bend, both had favorable impressions of the new complex.

“Spectacular,” said Gail, of the Village of Marsh Bend.

“Awesome. Out of sight,” added Mike, her husband.

“It’s in sight for me,” Gail said. “That’s what I like about it.”

Julie Swain, of the Village of Monarch Grove, said people didn’t think recreation centers could get bigger or better than Rohan Recreation Center.

“They get bigger and better every time,” Swain said.

“The only problem here, is there is so much to do, I can’t do it all,” said Jean Carouch, of the Village of McClure, as she watched The Villages Cloud Chasers Kite Club on the multipurpose field.

The kite fliers gave way to The Villages E-Flyers Model Airplane Club to demonstrate their R/C planes.

Many of the residents in attendance were there to demonstrate their favorite sports — including softball.

While some residents took part in open play at the four-field softball complex, others competed in games that counted toward their teams’ respective records. Cindy Flannery, for example, got to play a Ladies Recreation Division 2 game at the new softball complex with her All About That Base teammates.

“The whole complex is beautiful — the grounds and the bases,” said Flannery, of the Village of Virginia Trace. “Everybody was excited to come down and check it out and give the support to Fenney to show the people ‘Hey, it’s part of The Villages.’ It was good — very good.”

Tracy Morse, The Villages vice president of design, said she was astounded by Friday’s turnout at Everglades.

“The Villages residents are always so exited when something new comes to life, and of course they’re the reason it comes to life,” Morse said. “There are so many amazing things to do at this complex — a lot of new and exciting things. I think they’re all really excited about seeing the new things.”

Residents, and even a few visitors, came from Villages south of State Road 44 as well as the north end of The Villages to check out the largest recreation center on opening day.

Mary Benetz, who said she is staying in Alden Bungalows during her visit from New Jersey, said she and her friends felt like children again on a playground as they tried the leg press machine together among the outdoor fitness equipment.

“I can’t get over all this,” Benetz said, as she looked around at all the recreation facilities at Everglades. “This is really a lot.”

Among the attendees wowed Friday was long-time Wildwood Mayor Ed Wolf, who said Everglades is “like a Florida vacation out West.”

“It seems like every time (The Villages) opens one of these, there’s something new. It’s going to be hard to best this,” Wolf said. “It’s very impressive.”

Elly Gorman, the recreation facilities manager for Everglades, said residents can expect to see resident lifestyle groups using the recreation center for activities starting in early 2020.

“We have a lot of great opportunities  coming our way — a lot of great new amenities for them to try out and see what fits best for them,” Gorman said of Everglades. “And that no matter where you are in The Villages, this is for you. This is for you to enjoy the lifestyle and just enjoy being a part of The Villages.”

Senior writer Tyler Breaman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5226, or tyler.breaman@thevillagesmedia.com. Staff writer Dayna Straehley can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5408, or dayna.straehley@thevillagesmedia.com.