Video above and also available here by link: (“Barley Barber Swamp, the FPL Reservoir and its 1979 Catastrophic Failure, Part 1 of 2,” by Todd Thurlow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZvkvCEblfE&feature=youtu.be)
From the air, Barley Barber Swamp is distinctive. Like a thimble, it sticks out into Florida Power and Light’s reservoir in Indiantown, Martin County. The 6700 acre “man made lake” can hold more than 80,000 acre feet of water. It lies just north of the C-44 canal, and east of the dike from a once sprawling Lake Okeechobee. Barley Barber is the “crown jewel.”
“This jewel of a swamp” is a popular tourist destination and considered to be one of the finest remaining old-growth cypress communities in the country. In 1972, FPL purchased the swamp and surrounding lands to build their 6700 acre cooling reservoir that it operates in agreement with the South Florida Water Management District. An intake canal connects to the C-44 and S-153 to the northwest, contains and drains waters that once naturally flowed into Lake Okeechobee.
It is a wonderful thing that FPL saved the remaining 400 acre swamp! Today it is teeming with plant and wildlife species, including ancient bald cypress tress, one qualifying as the largest in the United States. My brother, Todd, notes that some estimates put that tree at 1,000 years old. The Wikipedia entry says its 88 ft. tall with a circumference of 33 ft., while the “Lady Liberty” tree in the same park as the late “Senator” is 82 ft. tall and 32.8 ft circumference – and is claimed to be 2,000 years old?
Hmmm? Maybe in south-central Florida we are really in first place!
Cypress are valuable and majestic water trees. It’s so nice to have what’s left, but one can’t help but wonder what the swamp looked like before its ancient branches were cut for lumber, and its massive stumps burned to make way for agriculture?
Well, we can can know…almost… I asked my brother, Todd, historic map expert, if he could show us, and he has created yet another “time capsule flight” video to take us there!
Using 1940 United States Department of Agriculture aerials, a 1953 USGA topographical map, and 1974 Florida Department of Transportation map juxtaposed to Google Earth images from today, we see the swamp in all its glory stretching east with forks, like a “river of trees.” What a beautiful, beautiful swamp it must have been!
Before it was cut down, Todd calculates it at 3076 acres, or 14.81 square miles. Amazing! I wonder what animals lived there? We can imagine alligators, and owls as the images fade in and out. And then we see the swamp’s stately trees replaced by the shape of the reservoir; we see the tree stumps burning, and smoke rising the sky. An offering perhaps…
….as humans we seem determined for the theme of our lives to be “Man over Nature.” Well, sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose…
Today, Todd’s video focuses on the structure and size of the former Barley Barber Swamp, but in Part II, he will share yet another story, the 1979 catastrophic failure of the FPL reservoir that burst through its dike like a tidal wave…
To view all of Todd’s incredible Time Capsule Flights of Martin County featured on my blog: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDaNwdmfhj15bmGNQaGhog9QpkQPAXl06
Barley Barber Swamp/Tours: http://www.barleybarber.org
Animals in the Swamp! https://www.fpl.com/environment/wildlife/barley-barber-wildlife.html
Barley Barber? Where does the name come from? Who was Barley Barber? Alice and Greg Luckhardt: http://www.tcpalm.com/story/specialty-publications/your-news/martin-county/reader-submitted/2017/04/14/historical-vignettes-martin-countys-barley-barber-swamp/100118178/
FPL/Barley Barber Swamp: https://www.fpl.com/environment/wildlife/barley-barber-history.html
Florida Rambler, Barley Barber Swamp: http://www.floridarambler.com/florida-bike-hike-trails/barley-barber-rare-cypress-swamp-re-opens-for-tours/
FL Museum cypress trees: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/index.php/southflorida/habitats/cypress-swamps/about/