Mapping the Wild and Scenic Loxahatchee

Loxahatchee Lesson 1 

Loxahatchee Lesson 2

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love maps! Today I opened a map entitled “Physical, Hydrological, & Biological Characteristics of the Loxahatchee River Estuary, Florida, U.S Geological Survey,” that may not have been unfolded since the year I graduated from Martin County High School in 1982.

In June of 2020, my mother and her dear friend Nicki van Vonno, shared with me documents belonging to Nicki’s late husband, Frederik W. van Vonno. In 1979, as a student, “Fred” wrote a paper that he presented to his Georgia Institute of Technology professor,  entitled: “Environmental Considerations in Wild and Scenic River Studies.”

As we know,  the Loxahatchee River was designated a federal Wild and Scenic River shortly thereafter, in the momentous year of 1985. It was Florida’s first!

So this map is part of the history of the Loxahatchee becoming a Wild and Scenic River. There is a lot to talk about in Mr van Vonno’s documents, but I want to begin with this map. It will be our guide over the coming days. There are sections listed: Introductions, Purpose and Scope, Methods, History, Physical and Hydrologic Characteristics; Sediment; and Summary and Concluding Remarks -by Benjamin McPherson, Maryann Sabanskas,  and William Long -all of the Department of the Interior’s Geological Survey. You can peruse all of these sections  if you click on map below.

For purposes of time, and our goal to learn beginnings today, I will focus only on the historical building and demise of this great river, Loxahatchee.

History of the Estuary from map

The Loxahatchee River estuary owes its existence to a rise in sea level and an increase in rainfall. About 15,000 years ago, the shore of the Atlantic Ocean was several miles east of more than 300 feet lower than its present location and altitude at Jupiter Inlet. The climate was windy, cool, and dry. From about 15,000 to 6,000 years ago, sea level rose relatively rapidly at a rate of more than 3 feet per century. Near the end of this period, modern vegetation and climate became established and the rise in sea level slowed. Sometime near the end of the rapid rise in sea level and several thousand years ago, tidal waters began to flood the estuary embayment. Prior to this time, the embayment was  probably a flood plain or a freshwater marsh. From the time of the first tidal flooding to about 1900, the shape and bathymetry of the estuary were modified solely by natural processes of sedimentation and erosion…

The rest I will paraphrase:

In 1900 came the “progress” of man bringing with it two big shifts: 1. the dredging and permanence of the Jupiter Inlet which allowed much more salt water into the delicate estuary,  and a familiar foe, over-drainage – Ground water levels were lowered and fresh water inflows reduced.

The once fresh water inputs going into the Southwestern Fork (far left/down) from Hungryland Slough and the Loxahatchee Marsh -part of Loxahatchee Slough we talked about in Loxahatchee Lesson 1- were tamed by  the huge C-18 canal. The Everglades connection severed.

The Northwest Fork’s water (middle) was reduced due to development of the Central and South Florida Plan, all of the giant historic canals that are managed today by the South Florida Water Management District. Creeks Kitching and Cypress remain, but are anemic. A portion of this Northwest Fork -from  Riverbend Park to Dickinson State Park is the area that was deemed “Wild and Scenic” in 1985. In spite of this status, cypress trees have been replaced by mangroves due to less fresh water input and more salt water input. 

The North Fork (far right) is surrounded by development but a small portion looks untouched in its upper region. 

All things life changing begin with a dream. My writings will follow Fred van Vonno’s dream. 

The Loxahatchee is one of thousands of United States rivers that have been negatively transformed by agriculture and development; but, the Loxahatchee has more hope than most. In future blog posts we will explore this studying the Wild and Scenic designation and how this “dream come true” is not over yet. 

DOI Archives: 

Click to access 0001pt01.pdf

6 thoughts on “Mapping the Wild and Scenic Loxahatchee

  1. The paragraph about the rise and fall of sea level is very telling. The Global Climate Folks believe that is is a new and dangerous thing. Sea level rise of 3 feet per century would be devastating to any people or animals living in Florida during the period of rapid change. I worked at Jonathon Dickinson State Park as a Ranger, I could see the changes even then with the construction of the housing development at the southern boundary of the Park. We the People are the worst enemies of the natural world. Frederick Law Olmsted and many other of his age believe that man had to harness and conquer nature. Which is the wrong attitude. We need to figure out how to live with nature.

  2. Jacqui, Well done. Charles Pierce’s comment “.. how to live with nature” easily said; not difficult to do but very difficult for most people to live in and with nature. We tend to control nature to our liking and design. A prime example is the SFWMD’s almost complete alteration of its jurisdictional water storage volumes, water flow rates and channelizations of natural watercourses into canals.
    We learn or more properly should learn from our mistakes. An example, the USACOE is refilling in 44% of the canal that once was the natural Kissimmee River at great success in terms of wildlife, water quality and water volume flow. Could it do more?
    You came aboard late in the SFWMD game as all the other Board members. Has any consideration been made to doing more to converting canal’s back to more meandering floodplain water conveyances. The benefits to such restoration where possible would be a major accomplishment in the water quality improvements this board is expected to accomplish for the 8 million residents that call this area home.

    1. Dear Joe, thank you for you comments and insights. I know there are plans to backfill some of the canals in the lower region of the system. I do not know the numbers. As the new boards mission is to restore, I could not agree with you more.

  3. Excerpt from the Charles Pierce memoir page 654-655

    A large steamboat dock was built on the south side of the Locohatchee River and a large force of Negroes started work grading for the railroad they were going to guild from Jupiter to Juno at the head of Lake Worth. They had the grade through to Juno in short order and were laying track with hand cars while waiting for the rolling stock to come down the river from Titusville. The company was building a large steam lighter at Titusville on which to transport the locomotive and cars to Jupiter.
    On my next trip to Titusville, I found upon my arrival at that town the steam barge had been launched and was nearly finished. After unloading my cargo of tomatoes, I docked the Illinois near this barge.
    The next morning, had just finished breakfast and was cleaning up the table when I heard an animated conversation, or rather a discussion going on aboard the new steam lighter. I came on deck to see what it was all about. A painter was standing on her deck with his paint and brushes. It seems he had been sent to paint the name on the side of the cabin, but was at a loss about the correct spelling if the name and he and two others were having an argument about the way it should be spelled.
    Just as I had taken in the situation a carpenter came on board and asked what was the argument. They told him. He said, “That’s easy, I can tell you; L O X A H A T C H E E, that is the way to spell it.” The painter immediately started painting Loxahatchee on the side of the steamers stateroom.
    It occurred to me afterwards that I should have butted in on that talk and told the painter the correct spelling of the name which was a combination Spanish and Seminole, Loco, as most everyone knows is Spanish for crazy, and hatchee is Seminole for river, and the name meaning “Crazy River.”
    Loxahatchee has no meaning whatever; it is just a name invented by a carpenter on the old steam barge at Titusville. The strange part of it is the fact that while all the old settlers at Jupiter knew the name of the river was Locohatchee, they accepted the new name painted on the steam lighter. Now there is hardly anyone that remembers the right name of the river.

    note; We know today that the rivers name meant “turtle river” and was spelled Lochahatchee or Locohatchee depending on the document before this event.

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