Hobe Sound, Florida: Trapper Nelson's Zoo and Jungle GardenTrapper Nelson lived off the land at first, then turned the 800 acres he owned into a tourist attraction from the 1940s until 1960. He'd wrestle gators and wrap himself in snakes. His cabin has been preserved in a state park.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
- 16450 S.E. Federal Hwy., Hobe Sound, FL
- Jonathan Dickinson State Park, north of Jupiter on US Hwy 1.
- Trapper's site open Th-M 9:30 am - 4:30 pm. (Call to verify)
- $6 per car Park entrance fee + Cost of boat transportation varies.
Visitor Tips and News About Trapper Nelson's Zoo and Jungle Garden
"Trapper Nelson's Zoo and Jungle Garden" was a popular, privately owned tourist spot from the 1940s until 1960. Vincent Natulkiewicz, better known as Vince "Trapper" Nelson, came from New Jersey to Florida in the early 1930s and turned his homestead into a zoo and gardens along the shores of the Loxahatchee River, filled with exotic fruit trees, plants and wild animals.
In the 1940s and '50s, Trapper had hundreds of people -- including Palm Beach millionaires and national and Hollywood celebrities like Gary Cooper and Gene Tunny -- visit his jungle hideaway and come see the Loxahatchee's mystery and beauty. The flamboyant "Wild Man of the Loxahatchee" would wrap himself with snakes and wrestled alligators for tourists, and was also known locally as the "Tarzan of the Loxahatchee."
Trapper was forced by the state to close his attraction to tourists in 1960. After that, Trapper became a recluse and little was heard about him until he was found shot to death in his remote camp on the Loxahatchee in 1968. Although the county coroner ruled the death a suicide, many locals suspected foul play. There are even reports Trapper's ghost still haunts the site!
Trapper's land was acquired by the Florida Park Service after his death and incorporated into Jonathan Dickinson State Park which now protects this "Wild and Scenic" designated river and Trapper's former zoo and homestead. Most of "Trapper Nelson's Zoo and Jungle Garden" hand-built docks, cages, cabins and "Chickee" shelter still stand on the site. Trapper's can only be reached by boat and you can explore the site yourself or take the free Ranger guided tour ... once you decide how you will get there!
Visitors must pay a Park entrance fee before deciding how they will reach Trapper Nelson's former homesite.
You can rent a boat from the park concessionaire for a reasonable fee, or ride the 25 passenger "Loxahatchee Queen" cruise boat up river to Trapper's. You'll see osprey, turtles, alligators and, on my last trip, we also saw several manatees, including a cow and newborn calf. The "Loxahatchee Queen" ride includes historical information about the river and Trapper's role in developing the area and insuring that the river didn't disappear under a developer's bulldozer blade.[Charles R Pudwill, 01/01/2012]