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Cape Coral Living Magazine

Shell Factory & Nature Park is Southwest Florida’s Top Family Entertainment Destination

Photo courtesy of The Shell Factory & Nature Park.

Photo courtesy of The Shell Factory & Nature Park.

When Pam and Tom Cronin took control of the iconic 79-year-old Shell Factory 20 years ago, they could never have imagined that it would become one of the top 10 attractions by attendance in the entire state of Florida. Here in Southwest Florida, it is number one. 

Weathering storms has become a way of life for the Cronins since the very beginning, but nothing seems to stand in the way of their sheer determination to succeed. Hurricanes, fires, banks and several economic downturns have all tried—and failed—to derail the Shell Factory and Nature Park. Against all odds, the Cronins’ management team and employees have flourished simply on unbending devotion to the park that they proudly call home. Armed with that attitude toward success, they keep moving forward.

“The Shell Factory is a place that grows on you,” says Rick Tupper, the company’s CFO and marketing director. “It’s really an old Florida roadside attraction on steroids. We are grateful to our local residents along with our seasonal guests for the support they have given us, especially over the last several years.”

It hasn’t been an easy road to the top. In fact, Tom Cronin points out that it has taken him and his wife, Pam, 20 years of renovations and adding attractions for the park to have finally turned the corner. Cronin believes that it was the addition of the Nature Park to the Shell Factory that really changed its trajectory. “When we opened the Nature Park, we believed that it would help support the restaurant and gift store,” Cronin says. “But as it turns out, a profitable Nature Park has allowed us to continue to add new habitats and exotic animals.”   

Photo courtesy of The Shell Factory & Nature Park.

Half zoo and half petting farm, the Nature Park has become a hybrid sanctuary for more than 400 birds, reptiles and mammals. You won’t find lions, tigers or bears here, but you will have the chance to get up close with a two-toed sloth, a keel-billed toucan, and Misfit the skunk. Attributable in no small part to the loving kindness and attention of the park’s devoted animal-keepers, local authorities have entrusted the park with the care of local rescues. This infusion of animals has propelled the park into being recognized as one of the most dedicated small-animal care facilities in the country.

Of course, the Shell Factory and Nature Park wouldn’t be the same without the Shell Museum. As one of the four free museums on the site, it has taken almost 80 years of searching and collecting to assemble the specimens on display here; all have been harvested from local beaches all the way to the Pacific Rim. One of the museum’s highlights, a replica of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, was fashioned out of 96,000 shells and an untold number of hours of detailed workmanship.

Also on site is the Military Museum honoring veterans. The Natural History Museum has the largest collection of preserved animal specimens in the country. The Fossil and Gem Museum provides visitors with a unique look into our past through fossils dating back thousands of years. Add to this mix the family Fun Park, retail gift shop and a restaurant with some real old Florida charm—Capt’n Fishbone’s Seafood Grill—and you have all the ingredients for one of the truly unique destinations in all of Florida.

There will always be hurdles and new challenges to face for this iconic park in North Fort Myers—it has always been that way. But weathering the storms only serves to make it stronger. 

The Shell Factory & Nature Park is actually a melange of several attractions, including Capt'n Fishbone's Seafood Grill, an animal sanctuary, four museums, a gift shop and a family fun park. Photo courtesy of The Shell Factory & Nature Park.

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Written by Joe Yapello, a contributing writer for TOTI Media.