Rebuilding Lake Okeechobee, Leaving Some Clues For the Next Generation, SLR/IRL

With my niece Evie Flaugh at Women of Distinction 2018. Evie was recognized for co-founding River Kidz seven years ago.

I hope everyone had a happy Mother’s Day yesterday! One of our “around the table” family discussions went like this:

Jacqui:” I’m getting a new headshot this week because now my hair is gray.”

Sister Jenny: “Why? Are you running for office?”

Jacqui:” No, not now. But I want my blog photo to look like me.”

Sister Jenny: “Why!” 🙂

Whether it’s my hair, or our natural landscape, things are always changing! I think it’s important to let young people, like my niece Evie, Jenny’s daughter, almost 18 and entering the world,  know what our natural landscape looked like “before,” as they will be dealing with water issues we can’t even imagine.

One of the least documented changes of Florida is the demolition of the pond apple belt of Lake Okeechobee. I hope in time, the younger generation finds a way to recreate its original natural purpose that was to strain, slow down, and clean the lake water flowing south into the sawgrass plains of the Everglades. Another benefit was flood protection. Nature’s adapted protections out-do mankind’s every time…

Full image, Lake O pond apple belt. The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011.
The pond apple belt today is gone, replaced by the cities/areas of  Port Mayaca, South Bay, Belle Glade, Pahokee, and Clewiston. The pond apples were torn out to access the value muck soil beneath them. Google Earth image.

In pre-drainage times, the  original features of Lake Okeechobee helped contain it. There was the Okeechobee Sand Ridge; the Southern Ridge; the Spillover Lands;  and the fossilized coral ridge.

The Sand Ridge extended from Martin County to Palm Beach County ~just north of Pahokee. There was a cut in this ridge where water could more easily escape east at today’s historic village of Sand Cut along the eastern shoreline. Archaeologists believe this Sand Ridge running along the lake was an old shoreline. It is stated in the research of the Boyer Survey, An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, by Christian Davenport, Gregory Mount and George Boyer Jr., that only the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee was “defined by a sand shore.” Today the Army Corp has built a dike along and over this sand shore with the addition of extra boulders for protection. Very unattractive. The original pond apple forest would not just have been more lovely, but would have helped in times of storms ~ similar to how mangroves, even in front of a seawall, do today.

The Southern Ridge was a high muck ridge that had formed at the southern end of the lake and was located in a “massive belt of pond apple trees.” This forest was completely mowed-down to access the deep muck for agricultural purposes. It was 32,000 acres! (Lawrence E. Will) The towns of *Port Mayaca, Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay, and Clewiston south today’s Lake Okeechobee are located in what was once the pond apple forest. Surreal, isn’t it?

These trees grow closely together and can get very large. They have weird roots kind of like mangroves. My husband Ed and I bought a lot along Overlook Drive in Stuart and oddly or interestingly enough in this area there are pond apple trees. According to the study, the original lands of Lake Okeechobee sloped towards the lake, meaning the lake  would have been as much as two miles wider during periods of  high water. (The forest and the shape of the land held the water in the lake.) Along the southern edge “dead rivers” cut through this muck ridge and were the primary outlet during times of high waters. (Boyer Survey)

Pond apple
Giant pond apple trunk, near Overlook Drive in Stuart, FL.2017.JTL
Florida Memory photo, pond apples belt at rim of dead river/creek. John Kunzel Small 1869-1938.

Spillover Lands was the archeological term for the lower-sawgrass plains extending beyond the southern side of the pond apple forest. Here sheet flow was created that moved and melded into the Everglades, basically a littoral marsh.

By the way the “dead rivers” were anything but dead, some very deep and very long. The word “dead” was applied as some of the original explores could not find “the end,” and I believe this word suits today’s powers well as the word “dead” makes one think they had no life. The complete opposite is the truth. They were full of life! All the animals of the Everglades, including hundreds of birds colonies lived in these areas that were completely DESTROYED.

The final formation mentioned in the Boyer Survey is an ancient Fossilized Coral Ridge (Reef)  that runs from approximately Okeelanta to Immokalee. In pre-drainage times, this muck covered reef caused a higher elevation that is thought to have helped retain some of the water within the Spillover Lands during times of low water. Hmmm? Another Nature feature that works better than our manmade ideas for drought protection today – deep well injection, and other brilliant ideas….

Well, I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson! And I hope some young people like my niece Evie in the photo at the beginning of this blog read this post some day. Gray hair can be dyed or glorified, but the natural features of Lake Okeechobee in the heart of Florida, they must be rebuilt as part of today’s modern eco-system.

River Kidz workbook 2, “mythical pond apple forest,”
Julia Kelly, 2014.

Former posts on the Pond Apple Forest, JTL:

Agriculture’s Eradication of the Mythical Pond Apple Forest, Lake Okeechobee,SLR/IRL:

What the Muck? SLR/IR: L

Remembering Lake Okeechobee’s Moon Flower This Easter, SLR/IRL:

1850s map of Florida


6 thoughts on “Rebuilding Lake Okeechobee, Leaving Some Clues For the Next Generation, SLR/IRL

  1. Were these pond apple forests around Pahokee originally called custard apple trees?

  2. Fascinating and wonderful post, thank you! It must have magically beautiful back then!

    Sent from my iPad

  3. Kudos again Jacqui, for your fine research and another excellent write-up “introducing” the folks on the coast to The Lake “O” area – as it used to be, pre Glades development. Again though I needs to be stressed that the historic, and natural, Lake Okeechobee overflow elevation was in the range of 22′ to 24′ (rather than it now drained and controlled elevation range of 13.5 – 15.5′

    The following is a “similar” excerpt passage from a much longer post I made Ten years ago following the announcement that a “Deal” had been reached for the State of Florida to repurchase ALL of the USSC lands and properties in the EAA. (This excerpt is from an addition that I made to that original posting as it related to the FEC’s Kississimmee Valley Branch Line, and what remains of that… the “K-Line Branch” running from Ft. Pierce to Lake Harbor.

    FEC’s current Lake Harbor Branch Line (still, aka The K-LINE) originates at the Ft. Pierce Junction just South of the Ft. Pierce Yard, North of Savannas Rd, and 3/4 mile East of U.S. Hwy 1. From there it runs generally Southeast to what “was” the “shoreline ” of Lake Okeechobee at “Mantola”. About 29 miles out, at “Marcy” it crosses SR 710 – The Bee Line Highway between Indian Town and Okeechobee. Marcy is only a place name now, but it still shows up in Google Earth and DeLorme’s “Florida Atlas and Gazetteer, Pg 102). It continues about 0.3 miles Southwest where it curves to the Southeast and joins “the old” Lake Harbor Branch line at “Mantola” (MP 30.0 on the “new” branch = MP 153.0 on the “old” Lake Harbor Branch). This section, “The Ft. Pierce Cut-off” was opened March 8, 1947 and earned a two page article in the May 1947 issue of Trains Magazine. [ Page 48 / Page 49] ( Thanks to Noel Weaver for the copy of this article from his collection. ) “Mantola” is 11.2 miles Northwest of the lift bridge crossing the St. Lucie Canal at Port Mayaka, adjacent to SR 76 / The Kanner Hwy. Page 49 of this “Trains Magazine article has an EXCELLENT PHOTO illustration of the this cut-off tracks construction, directly on the sand, where an elevated embankment was not required – prior to the track being ballasted.. The article also describes well the topography and elevations of the land from Ft. Pierce to Mantola where it joined the “old” Lake Harbor Branch Line’s Route down the East side of Lake “O”. The topopography of the entire existing K-Line is illustrated in the K-Line Track charts that I’ve scanned and included at the bottom of this article.

    SR709 (The Glades Cut-Off Road) parallels 16 miles this track with “little” development and NO curves – offering great “”Old Florida” rural photo opportunities and paceing trackage.

    Between “Mantola” and The St. Lucie Canal the line passes along the west side of the cooling lakes at FPL’s Indiantown Power plant.

    [NOTE: The “Rim of the Okechobee Basin” is Elevation 41.0 and is crossed in the “Glades cut-off Section” of the Lake Harbor Branch, MP 22.5,. from there to Port Mayaca it crosses the Allapatah Flats and around the SouthEast corner of Lake O and the southern Edge of Lake “O” it was built on the sand ridge which formed the rim of The Lake.. From Port Mayaca around the Southeast Corner to about 1 mile past South Bay (MP 40.5 – MP 66.9 the track bed is at Elevation 20.0. From South Bay to Lake Harbor (MP 66.9 – 70.9) the track bed is at Elevation 19.0. Also “of note” relative to the historic Lake “O” elevation range previously noted as Elev 22 – 24, is that this Eastern and Southern edge of the lake was COVERED with an extreamly dense growth of Custard Apple and Moon Vines stretching from 3/4 mile to a mile and a half back from the lakes edge. This created something similar to a “Bevear’s Dam” between The Lake and the Historic Everglades flow way. This was the “first” land reclaimed with the draining of The Lake, the first land farmed, and the first farm land “protected” from Lake “O” with the early muck dikes. The “~0.2′ per mile” average slope from the northern reaches of this historic Everglades flow way to Florida Bay is based on an elevation of 19.0′ at it’s upper reaches.]

    The line then continues around the Southeast corner of Lake “O” through the present towns or communities of Sand Cut, Canal Point, Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay, and on to Lake Harbor at the North end of the Miami Canal – midway between South Bay and Clewiston. FEC trackage ends at the west side of the bridge over the Miami Canal where it joins up with SCFE (former ACL/SAL, former ACL) trackage. It is still in use, as a freight line, on a near daily basis. From MP 15 to the end of this line at MP 70.9 the “K-Line” is currently leased to USSC’s South Central Florida Express. (It’s been “rumored” that this FEC/SCFE lease was terminated prior to the FEC’s aquisition by the Fortress Investment Group in 2007.) The FEC still services customers along the 1st 15 miles of the K-Line East of the historic Cana community and Range Line Rd. (aka Allapatah Rd / SR 609) – most notable among these customers is the Ft. Pierce Tropicana Juice Plant just East of I-95.

    Link to the full article:

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