For thousands of years, before the intervention of modern man, the Ais Indians walked the banks of a large fresh water “stream,” that flowed to the Indian River Lagoon. When the Seminoles came years later, they called it Halipatiokee, Alligator Water, as it was fresh and full of gators. The Spaniards came in the 1500s, on and off for centuries. They first called the river, Rio de Santa Cruz, river of the Holy Cross, as the river is cross-like. Later, they re-christened the river Rio De Luz , river of light, for the lighting on the water is heavenly. Eventually, the Spanish called the river, Santa Lucea. The English then taking over, “anglicized” the name Santa Lucea, to what we know today, as “St Lucie,” the church’s saint of the blind, and of “vision.”
Unfortunately, there was not much long-term vision when the watersheds around the St Lucie were altered by modern man. In 1892 area pioneers cut a permanent inlet from the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean, killing the native fresh water grasses that supported an entire ecosystem. Nonetheless, they created something wonderful, the brackish estuary we all know today. This area, over the years, before its recent destruction, became one of the most bio diverse estuaries in North America.
That wasn’t enough, the local people and the state, with the help of the federal government’s Army Corp of Engineers, decided they wanted a connection to Lake Okeechobee for trade, travel, agriculture and the convenience of keeping the big lake of Okeechobee, “low.” So they built the C-44 canal connecting Lake Okeechobee to to the St Lucie “River.” In high water times, the overflow from the lake was directed into the St Lucie River as it is today. Later, around the late 1950s the people decided they wanted more drained land for orange groves and development in the north, and less flooding, so they got the state and federal government to build the C-23, C-24 canals in Martin and St Lucie counties, draining some areas that had never flown south before. These canals even drained lands out west, in what is now Okeechobee County, and in the north, known today as the City of Port St Lucie.
Did the people building these canals ever think about the effects on the Saint Lucie River? This seems doubtful. And so today, we have a river system that takes on much more water than it was ever meant to receive.
As Ernie Lyons, the former great environmentalist and editor of the Stuart News wrote in the 1960s about the loss of the headwaters of the South Fork of the St Lucie River during his lifetime:
“…The drainers got to work on the marshes. The cypress bordered ponds became white sand in the dry times. A ditch through them gushed silted floods during the heavy rains. The little stream was ruined. It turned from paradise to paradise lost…”
Not until really the 1970s did humankind start to reflect and realize that we literally were killling paradise, and we have been trying to revive the spirit of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon ever since.
With out a doubt, the spirit of the saint still lives in the St Lucie River; her ancient story is that she lost her eyes to give the people their own “to see .” When you drive over the bridge and look at her, the beautiful St Lucie, open your eyes and ask her to give us all, “better vision.”
St Lucie River SFWMD: (https://my.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/common/pdf/stlucie.pdf)
Watershed maps/FDEP: (http://www.protectingourwater.org/watersheds/map/)
Story of St Lucy/Lucie: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Lucy)