With all the fanfare this week regarding the filling of the C-44 Reservoir, I thought I’d share the C-44’s “birth certificate.” It’s pretty old. This photograph below is from the Florida Archives in Tallahassee and is part of a series of survey maps stating “Survey by G.V. Scott and J.D. Weems. Made under direction of F.C. Elliott, Chief Drainage Engineer, Tallahassee, Florida. July 6, 1915.”
-1915 historic blueprint for the St Lucie Canal, Florida Archives (click for larger image) At first glance, the giant photo of the survey is hard to read. The blue background and white lines are a bit dizzying. So I printed the survey out and colored it trying to get an idea of what was what. Looking below, from left to right, we can see Lake Okeechobee. We can also note the cut-in of “Chauncey Bay,” and the saw grass/glades marsh running both north and south connecting with the Halpatiokee Marsh and Allapttah Flats on the east side of “high pine” culminating south at Annie, near today’s Indiantown. This survey reveals the once extensive and beautiful, virgin, slash-pine forests that covered most of our lands. imagine the wildlife! We can also see the crooked black line, running east, that was to become the St Lucie Canal or C-44. We notice the “Green Ridge” clearly separating sprawling Lake Okeechobee from the petit St Lucie River to the east of the “Cane Slough,” an area that today must be drained lands somewhere around Kanner Highway and Bridge Road. If you study the “blue birth certificate survey,” there area many other notations, but those mentioned are what I colored.
It’s amazing isn’t it? There are no boundaries except the one’s we make. In 1915 this area not only was a forest, glades, slough, and marsh but was mapped as Palm Beach County. Today the region contains Martin, St Luice, Okeechobee and Palm Beach counties.
How amazing this Florida Jungle must have been before we tamed it. Before we drained it. I especially wonder what the Cane Slough looked like. Headwaters of the St Lucie? The fishing must have been magnificent!
As Thanksgiving approaches, I wish to state that I am thankful that I belong to a generation of people trying to restore these lands rather than trying to drain them. Water is lifeblood. I always remember, my dad’s friend Mr Hadad saying to me: “Jacqui we spent a hundred years draining the water off the lands, and we’ll spend the next hundred putting it back on.” We should think about this when we have a sip of water while eating turkey!
-1915 close up – St Lucie Canal overlay Cane Slough and a branch of the South Fork of the St Luice River, Florida Archives (click for larger image)
Colton Moir graduated from the Benjamin School in 2018. He is now twenty-one years old and a senior at Eckerd College in St Petersburg, Florida. He is the son of Jim and Kim Moir of Stuart, Florida and was one of the first River Kidz. I had a chance to interview Colton last week as part of my “Grown-Up River Kidz” series.
-Colton pictured with a cubera snapper he speared last summer. “Very tasty haha.”-Colton in 2014, 14 years old -presenting alongside Indian Riverkeeper Marty Baum. River Kidz’ GET THE MUCK OUT event, Harbor Bay Plaza, Sewall’s Point, FL. Photo credit, Nic Mader.-A bucket of MUCK from the bottom of the St Lucie River. This muck builds up due to polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee, the C-Canals, and area runoff. It smothers seagrass as well as sea life, and is often referred to as “black mayonnaise.” As a River Kid, Colton often spoke about issues of muck.-Colton stands directly under the GET THE MUCK OUT sign, River Kidz, 2014 (click to enlarge.)
JTL: “Hi Colton. Long time no talk. It’s been a few years since we last spoke. You’ve grown up since your River Kidz days. Tell me about what you are doing at Eckerd College.”
Colton: “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. I came into it thinking I was going to major in marine science, just because I’ve been around the ocean my whole life. My family is all marine advocates. I’m a huge environmentalist. I assumed I’d be going that route, but I found that chemistry and physics were not my forte, so I’ve switched to business administration with a minor in entrepreneurship. All of the projects I’ve done so far revolve around the environment. Like what I’m doing right now is helping create an oyster farm in Grand Cayman, and trying to get a reef-ball project up and running for every-day homeowners so they can have living, custom-made reef ball creations in front of their homes to enjoy instead of a hardened shoreline seawall.”
JTL: “Wow Colton, that’s fantastic. Creating a business model out of a River Kidz’ participated practice. Let’s talk about these reef-balls. Are they like a living shoreline?”
Colton: “It would be more along the line of a living seawall. The biggest issue I notice with traditional seawalls is the undercutting that waves create- having the reverb effect – once they hit the seawall -over time, you are losing your property line- you’re losing shoreline, which is what the seawall should be protecting in the first place. I think that a lot of homeowners are noticing this and that in the future they will implement these wonderful things called reef-balls which will not only protect their seawalls from all this erosion, but also help the environment and the fish.”
-Young Colton, father, and volunteers placing reef-balls in St Lucie River, River Kidz, 2014.
JTL: “That is really interesting Colton and right in the line with your River Kidz’ background. Tell me more.”
Colton: “My original idea was to partner with the Marine Resources Council in Melbourne and have every reef -ball contain a red mangrove, but I found out that a lot of homeowners hate red mangroves.”
JTL: “Really? People hate red mangroves? “
Colton: “Yeah. They don’t want to lose their view. They don’t really understand that you can trim mangroves because they have always heard from friends and family that you can’t trim your mangroves, that it’s illegal. It’s not. So one of the things I am finding myself doing, is what River Kidz taught me, and that is to talk to people in small groups to educate and change the knowledge base.”
JTL: “Colton, I remember when you were eleven at the Environmental Studies Center in Stuart and you were literally teaching the adults about muck in the St Lucie River. The adults stood around listening – spellbound.”
Colton: “Yeah, as an only child, I don’t know if I would have developed those skills without River Kidz.”
JTL: “Colton how do you see the difference between your parent’s generation compared to your generation when it comes to the environment?”
Colton: “I would like to think my generation sees the the environment in a little harder light. There is more research that proves the detrimental effects that we as humans, as a species, have done to the planet. However, I think my generation is often more “social-media oriented, whereas you guys really got out there. I myself try to get out there too. I have done projects with River Kidz, with Tampa Bay Watch, and a bunch of other community groups.”
JTL: “Colton with all the talk about Climate Change do you feel hopeful about the future?”
Colton: “I do. Honestly, conversations like this give me hope. Through conversations I learn about positive change. For instance, I just got out of a lecture about a company that had been doing reef safe sunscreen products. It’s called “Stream to Sea” in Hardy County. When Covid hit, they had to change to make environmentally friendly hand sanitizer. It went from an environmentally-friendly goal for a smaller market, to one that included millions of people. If they hadn’t been doing environmental work in the first place, they couldn’t have achieved what they did. “
JTL: “It seems like change, or adapting, is the name of the game. Colton if you had a message for the next generation of River Kidz, what would it be?”
Colton: “I’d say get involved. Get more involved within the group. Go to Washington D.C. Go talk in Tallahassee. Go to commission meetings. Now that I’ve grown up a little bit, I know how beneficial it is for an adult to see a young kid talking about muck.”
JTL: “Thank you Colton, it was those River Kidz’ “teachable moments” that made all the difference to invigorating Florida water policy. And you continue to make a difference today! So great to talk with you.”
-Colton planting a red mangrove, 2021-Colton shared this photo of himself with his girlfriend, Kayla, and their dog, Availability also known as “Ava.” In spite of challenges, the future is looking bright!
-C-25, Taylor Creek, Ft Pierce, FL July 20, 2013 Jacqui & Ed Lippisch
This aerial photo is an old one. Taken in July of 2013, it became one of the “poster-photos” in the fight to fix the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. This photograph is not of Lake Okeechobee water, but the polluted runoff of C-25, Ft Pierce, St Lucie County.
Yesterday, the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board approved the purchase of 1,583 acres to create a reservoir and storm water treatment area for the the C-25. This means, that over time, this horrible looking sediment-pollution plume will be lessened or even disappear. Good for the Indian River’s seagrass! Good for the hard working residents!
When the modern River Movement began, brought on by the “Lost Summer of 2013,” the entire focus was on the discharges destroying the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon from Lake Okeechobee. The St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon deals with a “two-front war.” The C-Canals (C-44, C-23, C-24, C-25) and often toxic Lake Okeechobee that is discharged through the C-44 Canal along with basin run-off.
What ensued will make the history books:
~The people united against the Cyanobacteria laden Lake Okeechobee discharges that are considered the worst of all the discharges, and pushed for the EAA Reservoir, with the help of Senate President, Joe Negron, and others. The reservoir was approved by Congress in 2018. This was an amazing feat. The EAA Reservoir is ready to go under construction, and will allow more water to go south to the Everglades and less water to be discharged to the St Lucie and Calooshahatee estuaries. This was the first and most important goal.
So now, with that in place, (and continuing to fight for its completion), it is time for the River Movement to expand to the next level of destruction, the C-Canals. Although the betterment of these canals has been part of CERP since the beginning, they are just now seeing their day. All of them fall under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan category, “Indian River Lagoon South,” and there are four of the them in our region: C-44, C-23, C-24, C-25. “C” stands for Canal.
Remarkably enough, the C-44 Reservoir, in Indiantown will go on-line next week as the 1st major CERP project completed and as the first component of “Indian River Lagoon South.”
Because of the ACOE moving forward, in the near future, other C-Canal projects will be completed: 1.C-23 and C-24, done together through the C-23/24 North and South Reservoirs, and the C-23/24 Storm Water Treatment Area; and 2. there is now land for the C-25 Reservoir and Storm Water Treatment Area. (Top of image.)
It is impressive that since 2019, not only was the first construction contract awarded for the EAA Reservoir – and that the SFWMD is building the EAA Storm Water Treatment Area, but that also from 2019-to present, the Army Corp of Engineers is “in design” on C-23/C-24 and, yesterday, the SFWMD bought land for C-25. This is all costing millions of dollars!
I know all of these numbers get confusing. The bottom line is that almost all is in place to to heal our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. (EAA Reservoir; C-44 Reservoir, C-23/24 Reservoir and now even C-25 Reservoir.)
Now we just have to get it all to the finish line.
This will take about ten years so long as all goes well and LOSOM’s outcome is palatable. I will talk more about this in another post.
In closing, for long-working Martin County Commissioner, Sarah Heard, I must mention the last and perhaps most important part of Indian River Lagoon South. The “Natural Lands” component. ~for the birds and other creatures. Part, like Allapattah Flats, is complete but there is more to acquire. See list below.
For now, please try to learn the C-Canals if you don’t know them. We will all need to know them for the the next chapter of the St Lucie River/ Indian River Lagoon!
NOAA describes Lidar – Light Detection and Ranging- as a remote sensing method used to examine the surface of the Earth. My brother, http://eyeonlakeo.com, Todd Thurlow, shared such an image, of South Florida, during the October meeting of the Rivers Coalition http://riverscoalition.org. Looking at the image, Todd noted that the elevations displayed have not changed in over 5000 years. One can clearly “see” where the water used to go and not go. The tiny St Lucie River on Florida’s east coast was isolated from Lake Okeechobee by a ridge only to be connected to the lake in 1923 by the C-44 Canal -that can also be seen in this image. This why on the east coast we stand strong in saying #nolakeo. We never were and prefer to be unconnected.
-Riverview Drive, Sewall’s Point , FL 11-6-21. Since about 2012, the street I live on floods during King Tides. As a peninsular community between the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, many areas of the town are prone to flooding. For instance, when I was a kid, we used to play in waist deep water from Sewall’s Point Road up to Banyan Road during such events as Hurricane David in 1976. Later the town raised North Sewall’s Point Road and the flooding situation improved. However, over the following decades, areas that were “dry” are now often filled with water.
Like the street I live on, fifty years later, Riverview…
On January 20th, 2020, Florida Oceanographic invited John Englander to speak at the the Blake Library in Martin County. In his book High Tide on Main Street, he writes ” Rising sea level will be the single most profound geologic change in recorded human history.”
Whether you believe this or not, Florida believes it. Whether it’s places like Monroe County that has been “underwater” for years, or places like Martin County that are only recently experience King Tide and heavy-rain flooding, RESILIENCY is the name of the game.
Today, I share some links to some of our local and state resiliency programs. If you just pursue them, you will be impressed. Even the Army Corps of Engineers is building resiliency through a program trademarked Engineering With Nature. I think this is the key, incorporating nature, not just building against it. I think we’ve figured by now, without Nature on our side, we will never win. ~Does your street flood? What do you think about the rising popularity of Resiliency?
Resiliency Programs Martin County/State of Florida
Ed and I went up in the Baron recently on October 30th, 2021 and it was a little bumpy. Although I have flown hundreds of times with Ed since the “Lost Summer” of 2013, when I decided I needed to overcome my fear of flying in small planes, sometimes this feeling, again, gets the best of me.
There may be a little turbulence or a vulture goes wizzing by the windshield and I think to myself: “This is it. This is the day. “
No matter how turbulent it gets, Ed always appears unaffected. He trusts the plane, the engineering, the physics of flight. Me? As much of a wonderful miracle as flying in a small plane can be, it always seems a bit, what shall I say, “unnatural.” Every time we land I cross myself thankful for one more flight. Ed always laughs.
What makes me go up again and again? Because every time we go up, it reinforces how much there is to fight for, what a beautiful place we live in along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. From the ground it is beautiful, from the air it’s something hard to describe. Some call this a relative of the overview effect.
I thought I’d share these St Lucie Inlet photos because they are impressive in their own right and also to compare them to what I posted yesterday on a flight from 10-27-21. As you can see light is everything. Appearances shift. On 10-30-21, around 11:00am it was overcast grey/green/blue over St Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park. It is also interesting to note the erosion on the south side of the St Lucie Inlet which was dug by hand as a permanent inlet in 1892 and created the St Lucie Estuary.
You’ll see that our German Shepard, Luna, was nothing but smiles! She reminds us we have so much to smile for!
-Luna is a very good flyer and never doubts the plane or pilot
-The air is great but there’s no place like home, Terra Firma!
These pictures were taken by my husband, Ed Lippisch, on 10-27-21. It was such a busy few days, that I really did not get to look at them until now. The first thing that struck me was the beauty and the interesting geometric shapes. We certainly live in a gorgeous place. This year the river has suffered from tremendous run-off from the C-23, C-24 and C-44 canals as well as stormwater runoff from all of our yards, driveways, and streets. Fortunately, we did not have major, long lasting, discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Fortunately, we were not struck by a hurricane!
I wanted to share this entire series of aerials as I think they complete a picture and give one the feeling of flight. The St Lucie Sailfish Flats look beautiful but please keep in mind that although you will see some dark areas on the sandbars that look like recovering seagrass, reports from Indian Riverkeeper, Mike Connor, and others, report various clinging algae more than lush seagrass beds. My brother, Todd Thurlow, has been reporting on the phenomenon of seagrass loss at recent Rivers Coalition meetings by comparing Google Earth images. You can go to his website eyeonlakeo.com to view in detail.
The St Lucie/Southern IRL has not had a “major event” since 2018 and worse, 2016, when the entire rive became a toxic soup due primarily to the discharges from Lake Okeechobee over an already impaired system. The ACOE and SFWMD continue to move forward on exciting projects that will help improve the river’s woes. The first of these to come on line will be the C-44 Reservoir in Indiantown. This ribbon-cutting will happen this month. I will be reporting on it and other components of CERP’s Indian River Lagoon South that are in motion. With Indian River Lagoon South and the EAA Reservoir there is hope. Actually there is more than hope. Our river one day, shall recover. Please do your part to refrain from fertilizers, and if you have one, keep a clean septic tank until you can go to sewer. Agriculture, too, must do its part, as we continue our journey to build a healthy water future.
The St Lucie and Loxahatchee watersheds as well as the EAA Reservoir are all noted on this schedule. The big recent additions are the C-23/C-24 Reservoir/STA components in St Lucie County and the Loxahatchee River watershed in southern Martin and Palm Beach counties. The C-44 Reservoir -that has been on the IDS for many renditions- is located in Indiantown and will be going on-line this year as the first completed major CERP project!
To study this chart, click on link above, familiarize yourself with the key at the top, note color coding by timeframe/Congressional approval, and type. It’s pretty cool once one figures out how to read it!
-Excerpt with Indian River Lagoon South’s C-23/C-24, C-44 etc…-Excerpt Loxahatchee River just authorized in WRDA 2020
By now you have certainly heard of LOSOM (Lake Okeechobee System Operation Manual) that is replacing LORS (Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule.) If you haven’t, basically the operation schedule for Lake Okeechobee is being updated in line with the anticipated completion of improvements of the Herbert Hoover Dike.
For over two years, the ACOE has patiently taken input from stakeholders and the public. They had originally expected to announce their final output on November 2, 2021, but have decided to postpone their final announcement until November 16, 2021. Why did they postpone? Read here: ACOE LOSOM press release. Even after November 16th the process will continue as the operations manual is written. LOSOM is on the IDS above and listed as a “Non-CERP” project (light blue at top.)
A lot of exciting things are happening for the St Lucie and for the Greater Everglades. Most definitely there is a reason for hope.
Keep the pressure on, be empathetic to all, and never forget how hard we have worked since 2013.
-Lake Okeechobee at Port Mayaca and C-44 Canal 2018. Photo JTL/EL
-Naia Mader co-founded River Kidz in 2011; today she is a junior at UC, Berkeley .This week, as part of my River Kidz series, I proudly feature Naia Mader. Naia, the daughter of Nicole and Donny Mader, co-founded River Kidz in 2011 with friend Evie Flaugh. Naia was only ten years old at the time. Today, she is twenty and earning a bachelor’s degree in Society and Environment, College of Natural Resources, University of California, Berkeley. Right in line with her River Kidz training, Naia is also completing a minor in Public Policy.
I had not spoken in depth with Naia since she left her hometown of Stuart, Florida, three years ago. I was happy to hear that Naia feels River Kidz helped prepare her for her studies. Last week, I interviewed her briefly by phone while she was in between classes.
JTL: “Hi Naia.” My having been born at Travis Air Force Base in California, in 1964, makes me feel like we have something in common. How do you like it out there in the Golden State in 2021?”
N: “Well, it was a shock in many ways. It is very different from Stuart. Now I love it.”
JTL: “What was the first thing you noticed was different?”
N: “Mmmm, the mindset of the people I think. Like when I think back on how those adults were against us at the CRC. I think there is more support here for youth and the environment. People are more hopeful, less divisive. For everyone, there’s more of an eco-consciousness. It’s not negative.”
JTL : (Laughing) :Naia that was incredible. Those were not just adults, those were very powerful Gunster lawyers -working against what you and Evie spoke in favor of “A Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment“- at the Florida Constitution Revision Commission in 2017. You and Evie learned a lot at a very young age. Water is the big issue here. What are some of the big environmental topics facing people in California?”
-River Kidz co-founders Evie Flaugh (11) & Naia Mader (10) 2011.-Evie & Naia, Tallahassee 2017. River Kidz advocated before the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, the Florida Senate, members of the House of Representatives in Washington DC, and various Florida county and city commissions. There have been over 600 members of River Kidz since 2011. Today’s generation is writing the U.S. Dept. of the Interior and politicians to get the ailing manatee back on the Endangered Species List.N: “Water too. But it’s water shortage, along with drought and fire.”
JTL: “Yes, we read a lot about the fires in California. Can you compare them to hurricanes in Florida -where it’s sometimes a little bit scary, and you hunker down and wait for it to pass?”
N: “It’s a different kind of scary. In a hurricane there is time and you prepare for this big storm, but with these fires they are always kind of looming over our heads. It’s more of an eerie feeling- it’s a constant thing…”
JTL: “So it’s more pervasive….”
N: “Yes, don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely beautiful here most of the time, but still. I’ll send you some pictures I took last year in September. Due to distant fires the sky was glowing completely orange. Its was like I said, eerie more than scary. And we are very aware of the AQI (Air Quality Index) out here and check it daily.”
JTL: “What’s the AQI?”
N: “The air quality index.”
JTL: “Wow. I take that for granted!”
N: “Two years ago we couldn’t go to class for four days because the AQI was over 270. It was strange; my roommates and I stayed inside. Sometime we don’t go out to exercise.”
JTL: “Well thank you for sharing about that Naia. I know people back in Florida are interested.”
-In 2020 Berkley had twenty days of red flag warnings. Photo Naia Mader “outside” Sept. 2020.JTL: “Naia, like you said, drought is a big environmental topic and linked to the fires affecting people and wildlife. Clean water and stopping the discharges from Lake Okeechobee was the mission of River Kidz, so what is it like dealing with drought – not enough water? How is it affecting people you know or yourself?”
N: “It is also pervasive. And yes a shift. So I for instance, I had class with fellow students two days ago, who, you know, they have water caps imposed by their local governments. They can only shower with the full strength of the water for an allowed period of time per day and the other part of the day has to be on half pressure.”
JTL: “Your’e kidding? Wow. I practice conservation, but I can’t imagine having a government cap on my showering time! Has this affected you too?”
N: “No, Berkeley is not in that situation. But other places not far away from here are, and some of my friends experience it when they visit home.”
JTL: “Water is everything…”
N: “Yeah, and another thing about drought, like here in California, it “never” rains, which is such a foreign concept to me because it rains all the time in Florida. For many of my classmates’ families that are from California, the effects of drought are far reaching and they talk about it a lot and are very conservation oriented. But don’t get the wrong idea, not everything is dry here, there are a lot green places too!”
JTL: “Yes, California has always been considered one of the most beautiful states desert or forest. It is a very special place. It think it’s great you are going to school out there.”
-Naia walks trails around Berkeley, always a tree hugger! JTL: “Naia, I know you have to go to class. Before I leave you, if you had something to say to next generation of River Kidz what would you say? Thank you so much for your time today.”
N: “I would tell them to be totally encouraged and to keep on fighting, to keep on getting involved, to use their voice. I think that’s the most important thing we can do right now.”
JTL: “Last question. Did River Kidz help prepare you for – life – basically? Can you explain?”
N: “Oh, I think ten-thousand percent. Like I’ve actually spoken to Evie about this. I feel like the way I present myself in speaking terms, writing terms… How I see things from many different perspectives… I feel like on a global scale, it has totally stemmed down from River Kidz. It taught me to mature at a young age, not forced to mature but… being able to write speeches, understand adults, and know what was going on even if I was a kid.
And I feel like I’ve carried that sense of self over to being here a Berkeley. In class, I can speak much more eloquently. I know how to do presentations, speeches – I feel like I kind of have that down on lock.
I feel like River Kidz really prepared me. I also feel that on the environmental scale I have been learning about these big environmental issues from a young age. It’s actually funny, one of my friends at school was learning about the toxic algae blooms in the St Lucie River/ Indian River Lagoon. So I was like “oh my gosh- that’s my home!”
It’s so far reaching…It definitely prepared me.”
Ironically, today parts of California are experiencing torrential rains. I will be interviewing more grown River Kidz in the future.
In the fall of 2011, the River Kidz were born. A grassroots youth uprising due to Lake Okeechobee discharges hurting St Lucie River wildlife and the power of social media that was in its infancy. A mixture of over one-hundred children, parents, and politicians came to the original River Kidz gathering and fundraiser at Sewall’s Point Park. A ten year old and an eleven year old had just changed the trajectory of their lives, and the river found a voice in a new generation.
Now it’s ten years later…
~Full disclosure, Evie Flaugh is my niece, the daughter of my younger sister Jenny and her husband Mike. Evie is the only child I have seen born into this world and it is heartwarming to watch her mature.
Recently, while I was Adrift on the St Johns River, Evie released her Capstone Project 2021 for Rollins College staring first and foremost the Everglades, along with interviews with Dr Leslie Poole, me, Maggy Hurchalla, Eve Samples, Mark Perry, and Nic Mader. The product is impressive and very professional. So proud of my River Kid! BTW Evie won “best” class! I’m allowed to brag; I’m her Aunt 🙂
Evie’s fourteen minute video “Send it South” is posted below on YouTube. Please watch. Please share. Please comment. My plan is to do a series of post about our grown up River Kidz.
-Evie Flaugh (11) and Naia Mader (10), September 17, 2011 co-founders of River Kidz, Sewall’s Point Park, 1st official event. Photo JTL-Evie 2021. Born and raised in Stuart, Evie co-founded River Kidz with Naia Mader in 2011. She remains passionate about activism and fighting for the environment. She recently graduated from Rollins College with a degree in Critical Media & Cultural Studies and is currently in her first year at the Crummer Graduate School of Business, on track to receive her MBA in May 2023. The “Send It South” documentary was her senior capstone last May. (Taken from Evie’s interview on WFLM with Robert Delancy, September 30, 2021; photo Evie’s Facebook page)
–East Palatka, St Johns River selfieHow does one tell the story of the St Johns River? Believe it or not, the St Johns River starts close to home in the western marshes of Indian River and northern St Lucie counties. Drained and destroyed for agriculture and now in the process of being restored, the waters of these wetlands wind north, melding with springs, creeks, and rivers finally exiting into the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville. This is the mighty St Johns!
When Ed and I began our trawler excursion this year, I really didn’t know what to expect. I read as much as I could, asking my mother to share history, but even so I was really unprepared for the experience. The St Johns is so long (310 miles) and covers so much territory. It runs through twelve counties. I couldn’t even find it on one map. With the Mainship’s four foot draft, only a portion of the river was navigable (Jacksonville to Sanford) but it is much longer than that. So again, how does one tell the story of the St Johns River? A part at a time.
Today’s part, 3,Palatka to Sanford, is longer than the previous two and will be the final tale of our journey. By the way, as 1st Mate, I didn’t miss a line! 🙂On September 11, 2021, Adrift departed the shores of East Palatka headed for Sanford. We were excited. There would be famous things to see along the way like, Rodam Reservoir, Lake George, Welaka State Forest, Astor, Hontoon Island, Blue Springs State Park, and Lake Monroe. We had overnighted at Corki Bells close to the 2,757 acre Horseshoe Point Conservation Area the night before. As with the entire St Johns, in some areas the water appeared impaired and in others not. By the conservation area the water looked healthy. The fish were jumping. It was this morning that we saw the first eagle.
“Ed is that an osprey or an eagle? It has a white head. Oh my gosh! It’s an eagle!”
Over the course of the next two days, Ed and I saw a total of sixteen eagles, mostly in pairs. They were staring down at us from tall cypress trees; they were sitting on channel markers eating fish; they were swirling overhead. It was incredible! None of my photographs are good enough to share, but I did take a photo of a mural at Corki Bells that gives the feel of these soaring majestic eagles, especially on Patriot Day. -Map showing St Johns River cut of Cross Florida Barge Canal to the Ocklawaha River
One cannot tell the story of the St Johns without telling the story of the Ocklawaha. Not too far south of Palatka’s conservation area lies a cut from the St Johns River into the Ocklawaha River -scared by the history of Rodman Pool and Kirkpatrick Dam. In the 1960s and 70s Marjorie Carr and Defenders of the Environment garnered public and political will to halt the ecological nightmare of the still infamous Florida Cross State Barge Canal. Today activists calls continue to free the damed Ocklawaha.
I had read so much about the 1800s Riverboat trips to Silver Springs and how they define the history of Florida itself -so much so that there is a giant painting by Christopher Still in the state Capitol entitled “Ocklawaha”and historic documents and photos of the river are housed in the archives of the University of Florida. She is a part of the St Johns we must never forget.
The winding waterway south of Palatka is treed with cypress, sable palms, and other trees I didn’t know with only a few small towns along the way. We saw turtles, alligators, wading birds and more eagles! After about five hours we made it to Lake George the second largest lake in Florida and interesting enough, although the river is fresh at this point miles from the ocean, the lake is brackish -due to salt water springs- leftovers of an ancient Florida sea. The first clue we were in a different ecology was the abundance of hundreds of seabirds: seagulls, terns, and smaller birds I did not recognize. It was as if we were at the ocean! Shallow, eleven miles long, and six miles wide, Lake George is known for quickly- rising dramatic storms. Sure enough, when we entered the lake it was a beautiful day, by the time we were exiting, cumulonimbus had developed over the eastern edge forming thunder, lightening, wind, and white caps.
-Seabirds line the wooden guide to exit Lake George
Just south of Lake George lies Astor, a small hamlet that friend Captain Paul, who we’d met in Ortega, recommended. Ed and I stayed at Astor Bridge Marina. After a creative docking assignment, Ed and I exited Adrift stumbling upon the gigantic William Bartram Memorial Oak that had almost been obliterated by Highway 40 -basically cutting this little town in half.
As most of us were taught in school, in the mid 1700s William Bartram returned as he’d first come as a boy with his father to famously document the St Johns River Valley’s flora and fauna. The records remain a baseline today. For me it was serendipitous to find the memorial tree and learn that Astor was a location that William Bartram had actually overnighted. Between all the eagle sightings and the memorial oak, I was feeling inspired to continue my own journey for the St Lucie River. -William Bartram Memorial Oak, Astor, FL
AN ACCOUT BY WILLIAM BARTRAM
There was an exquisite sunset that evening. Sitting on the upper deck, as Ed sipped a vodka, and I drank white wine, I read Ed an excerpt from William Bartram. An account of a storm on Lake George as shared in Tales on the St Johns River, by Hallock. “Behold the little ocean of Lake George!” How absolutely full of wildlife the St Johns River Valley must have been when the Bartrams visited Florida in the 1700s! His accounts of birds, alligators, deer, bears, wolves, fish, the tannin-clear waters, and native people is especially amazing . I started to realize the St Johns Valley is equally important to the Everglades.
-Ed fixing the water pumpOn the morning of September 12, 2021, we departed for our final St Johns destination, Sanford on Lake Monroe. Docking was easy at Monroe Harbor Marina. Ed wanted to go get a pump as our water pump was failing, so I looked around while he went to the office. Immediately I recognized something because I’d been reading that William Bartram book. I saw hundreds, if not thousands, of dime sized banded mystery snail shells.
The grackles had eaten the mollusk and thrown the shells aside. I remembered Bartram’s account about the native people of Lake Monroe eating these by the millions to sustain themselves, creating middens, and that some of these middens remain today. What a name: Banded Mystery Snails…
-Lake Monroe approaching Sanford-Banded Mystery Snails from Lake Monroe, Sandford, FLWhere is Sanford anyway?To the east of Sanford lies Cape Canaveral and to the west Mount Dora. My maternal grandmother, Dorothy Dell Rawls Henderson, was born in Plymouth, Florida, not too far southwest of Sanford, close to Lake Apopka. The metropolis of Orlando lies south and Sanford International Airport, once a naval air station, now operates worldwide. Sanford has had its up and downs but now it is growing!
It was a fun change from being anchored out. There were good restaurants. There are great historic districts. Goldsboro was interesting. It was the second black incorporated township in the Inited States! And the Sanford Museum? It told the story of how the city grew up from agriculture south of Lake Monroe and Swedish immigrants role in its success. Once the citrus crop froze in the late 1800s, Sanford became the “Celery Capital of the World.” I never knew that!
-Sanford Museum with celery columns -Sandford’s famous downtown clock-St Johns Riverboat tours on Lake Monroe a big hit since 1850!-Downtown is historic and modern -The best pancake breakfast and coffee Ed and I ever had! Colonial Room Diner-Having fun! Many homes had natural yards for butterflies and birds in the historic district. -Veterans Memorial Park, Lake MonroeIt’s hard to share everything so I have just noted highlights. What a great experience the 2021 St Johns trawler excursion had been! It was sad to leave but it was time to get back to the St Lucie. Our farewell was a beautiful and crystalline day and Ed and I shall cherish it forever. “Goodbye St Johns! Thank you for sharing! Thank you for educating! Thank you for un-plugging us from social media! Now please safely take us home.”
So on September 15, now tried and true, Ed and I left Sanford to head back up the St Johns and then down the Indian River towards “Stuart on the St Lucie.”
-Heading out of Lake Monroe-A mirror of beauty, the St Johns…-Returning home…
-Suspension bridge, Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka.Today’s blog post continues the story of Ed my recent trawler excursion along the St Johns River. It was September 9 and we had been Adrift for eight days. Definitely starting to “mellow out,” the world as we knew it seemed a million miles away.
In order to reach Palatka, we’d departed Ortega at dawn. With the wind at our backs and overcast skies, Ed guided us past some of the most beautiful small towns and shorelines of the St Johns River: Mandarin, the home of Harriett Beecher Stowe; Hibernia, where Margaret Fleming taught her slaves to read; and Green Cove Springs, location of the famed “Fountain of Youth, and the “Mothball Fleet.” So much history and Palatka would offer even more. –St Mary’s Episcopal Church built in 1878, shoreline, Green Cove SpringsGetting from Ortega to Palatka took about five hours. As we nibbled on apples and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we looked down on a tannin colored, wide, curvy, and heavily treed St Johns. I had to wonder how much different it looked during the St Johns Riverboat era, long over a hundred years ago. The river’s path was taking a significant swing west. Dark clouds had formed and the ominous Seminole Power Generating Station gleamed like a dark sentinel as we slowly approached Palatka.“Is that Georgia-Pacific?” Ed pointed from the upper deck to what looked like billowing smokestacks.
“Yes, the area of the paper mill, and a coal-fired power station I think.” I yelled back from the bow.
“Isn’t Palatka the place you read there was once a giant lumber yard?”
I shook my head up and down. “Wilson Cypress Company, established 1891-the second largest cypress mill in the world! I can’t imagine cutting down all those giant trees!”
-AdriftWith a few squalls but no major issues, we pulled into the Boathouse Marina, where Craig, the dock hand, greeted us with firm direction and a friendly demeanor. As were tying up, I saw the remains of an old riverboat along the shoreline; a gator slipped into the water. “I’m gonna love this place.” I thought. And we did!
Before we went exploring, Ed wanted to take the dingy out and go across to East Palatka. It was windy and clouds were in the distance but I agreed. We made it across and explored but on the way home the engine sputtered and died.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Ed said.
I remained silent. Ed fooled with the battery. Watching the clouds rolling in from the west and checking my phone, I could see it read: “Lightening in Area.”
“There is lighting Ed. You better start rowing!” Ed looked sternly into my eyes. “That’s why I have the paddles!” he replied. I knew this was not the time for discussion. So like a modern Cleopatra I sat looking at my phone while Ed rowed across to Palatka proper. Luckily, Ed did a great job and we made it safely across. Ed immediately got a beer and went over to look at the old riverboat and see if I could find the alligator. Paltka is like a time-capsule of Florida history: railroads, riverboats, and wonderful historic homes. Our favorite excursion was Ravine Gardens State Park, one of nine 1930s New Deal state parks in Florida. The park is an ancient ecological wonderland with two ravines up to 120 feet deep featuring walking paths, gigantic trees, and wildlife. Its springs and waters trickle to the St Johns. It is part of the famed Bartram Trail of 1773-1777. It was a quite a hike and beautiful! -Court of States, “Hi mom and dad!”I was born at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, 1964! -The Amphitheater We also enjoyed the “The Hammock,” part of Palatka’s authentic Historic District. These homes were built during the city’s hay day of railroad crossings and Riverboats. Palatka is the City of Murals. All together there are twenty-three! On the way home from Ravine State Gardens we followed the on-line guide and visited almost all. A great way to share the past. Palatka has a great historic downtown right in the middle of the murals and the homes. They have not taken down their Confederate statues but the conversation is alive and well!Before I close on this chapter of Palatka, there is one more story I must tell. The public docks were within vision of the marina. For two days and nights Ed and I had seen crowds of locals throwing cast nets off the dock and this went on for hours. One night there was thunder and lightening and I awoke around midnight. I got up and looked outside. To my surprise the people were still throwing their cast nets! I woke up Ed.
“What do you think they are catching?” I asked. “There must be something really incredible in those waters! What do you think? Catfish? Mullet? What could it be?”
Ed kept snoring and when we awoke the next morning, the fisher people were still there. When we went to dinner that evening at a great Mexican restaurant, the fisher people were still there! On our walk home, I just couldn’t take it anymore.
“Let’s go visit the dock Ed!”We walked in the dim light onto the dock filled with people. Old folks, children, women, men. They were casting their nets into the water methodically, one throw at a time. Ed and I watched, walking along the far side of the dock, trying not to get in their way. We strained our eyes to see.
“Shrimp Ed! “They are catching shrimp!” They were not bring up many, maybe ten to twenty at a time. Each person had a five gallon bucket. Little kids would pick up the shrimp that got free and place them back into the bucket. I saw one they’d missed at the edge of the dock that certainly would have shriveled up. I snuck it into my hand. I looked at the people working.
“May I take a picture?” I asked one of the sitting men.
“Sure,” he said. “Are the shrimp here all the time?” I inquired.
“No mam. They are here just once a year. This is the St Johns River shrimp run.” Ed and I smiled. We walked to the end of the pier. “I can’t believe it!” Ed said, “I never would have guessed!” I threw the shrimp that had been snapping in my hand as far off the dock as possible. “Stay low.” I whispered, hearing the shrimp are caught as they ride a rising current.
“Incredible,” Ed said grabbing my hand.
So many things we didn’t yet know about the wonderful St Johns River. Next stop Astor.
So my blog has been quiet for a while. I have been away, but today I look forward to sharing with you Ed and my recent journey. On September 2, 2021, Ed and I began our trawler excursion number two. Last year we christened “Adrift” by completing the Southern Loop. This year our goal was something a bit more unfamiliar, the St Johns River.
Always worried about leaving in the heart of hurricane season, we were pleased that the weather was nice leaving “Stuart on the St Lucie.” Inching around the southern tip of home, the peninsula of Sewall’s Point, we headed north on the Indian River Lagoon. Honing our skills, we anchored-out the first night in Wabasso, and again the second night in Titusville. The third night we docked at the Halifax Harbor Marina in Daytona; and the forth at St Augustine Municipal Marina.
St AugustineIt was St Augustine that awoke us from our South Florida slumber. Historic St Augustine lies at the intersection of what is named the Matanzas and Tolomoto Rivers and sits directly across from the St Augustine Inlet.
Docking at the marina went well, but our departure, not so much. In the pastel clouded morning, as wading birds and rock pigeons flew in every direction, Ed and I pulled away to continue on to Jacksonville. As we were slapping ourselves on the back for “an exit well done” the strong current pushed our craft aside sending us in the direction of two enormous yachts. We were headed for collision. Time froze, Ed and I could not believe our eyes. It happened so fast!
I followed orders grabbing a starboard line, but realized there was really nothing I could safely achieve. The force of the tide was overbearing. Ed’s instincts kicked in, he exercised full power, stern hitting a lone piling that swung wildly as we pulled away.
I heard a gentleman holding a cup of coffee yell to Ed: “Nice save!”
Ed and I looked at each other incredulously, both knowing it was more luck than skill that saved us. Miraculously, there was no damage other than our egos. From here on out, Ed and I paid great attention to the tides and currents of the region.We didn’t talk much that day, and the Tolomato River region revealed its most beautiful residents to sooth our spirts. At one point along the miles of bright green marshes, forty-two roseate spoonbills flew past! It was spectacular! Eventually we entered “the northern part of the ditch, better known as the Intracoastal Waterway and suddenly we we entering the mighty St Johns River.
The Intracoastal and the St Johns intersect just west of the inlet at the Atlantic Ocean and Mayport, one of the largest naval stations in the United States and historic fishing village. As we veered west, Jacksonville came into view. It was impressive and intimidating. The river was wide and ships the length of skyscrapers filled the shorelines. I kept looking down, thinking I could “see” the tide. This river made the St Lucie look like a brook. In spite of the size of the river and the heavy industry, I kept noticing what appeared to be Monarch butterflies flying low across the water to the other side of the St Johns.“Unbelievable,” I thought. “How do they do that?”