My husband Ed took up the Baron today. His aerials are a potent reminder that even though the water has been looking “great” near the Sandbar in the St Lucie River/IndianRiver Lagoon, there is algae literally at “our front door.”
-Structure 308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee 6-15-21, 1:18 pm -all photos Ed Lippisch-Just west of S-308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee-North of S-308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee along Rim Canal-Lake Okeechobee north of Port MayacaSt Luice River/Indian River Lagoon residents have been fortunate that the ACOE, due to the presence of algae, made decisions this 2021 not to discharge as much to the St Lucie. This began on April 19, 2021 when the ACOE S-308 “Sediment Study” was postponed due to high levels of cyanobacteria in the toxic blue-green algae at the S-308 gate. The HAB DEVIATION the ACOE had put in place made this possible.
Looking broadly, my brother Todd’s website EyeOnLakeO shows that although cloudiness has made satellite images difficult, the majority of the algae in Lake Okeechobee is presently on the west side, and the Caloosahatchee, unlike the St Lucie, has to take water to to maintain salinity levels. Thus they have algae in their river system right now.
As I sit here, rain is pouring down. We know dry season is over and rainy season has begun. What is critical is that the ACOE does not open S-308 and S-80 this year as our seagrass beds are just starting to recover after years of Lake O discharges. S-80 is the gatekeeper for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. For now, S-80 is closed. In order to keep it closed for 2021 please write the ACOE at: PublicMail.CESAJ-CC@usace.army.mil
-S-80, St Lucie Locks and Dam now closedI am very pleased that Lake Okeechobee’s level is down to 12.50 feet; however, we know that could change quickly due to hurricane season. We must remain vigilant.
In closing, I want to share one cool thing that happened during Ed’s flight the thad nothing to do with algae. He saw the Goodyear Blimp!
Thank you Ed for continuing to be our “eye in the sky” since 2013! To view the SFWMD’s most recent comprehensive Ecological Report click here. There is a lot more to the system than us! 🙂
-Ed and Jacqui walking the bridge over the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, 2021. Working for the betterment of the SLR/IRL ’til the end of time!
On Saturday, June 5, 2021, Ed took me for a ride in the Maverick. Sometimes I am fussy, refusing to go if the waves are too big or the wind is too strong. But on Saturday, conditions were perfect.
It was a beautiful day, and I was grateful. I was grateful that the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon was not a toxic soup this year. I was grateful for the small amount of life in the river. Ed and I put in at the Jensen Beach Boat Ramp and it was crowded. Resident wading birds were there waiting to see if someone would throw them a fish. I noticed, thankfully, the county had put up a sign since the last time Ed and I had visited. Once Ed and I got beyond the docks and out into the Indian River Lagoon the wind picked up and I held on tight! I Suddenly it seemed we were weaving in and out of other boats. I kept yelling “Be careful of manatees!”
“I’m in the channel!” Ed replied, looking at me incredulously.
First we visited Boy Scout Island between Sewall’s and Sailfish Points as I wanted to check out the seagrass or lack thereof. It was growing! There were different kinds, one like a feather, (Johnsons) the other like a thick hair (Shoal). I saw blue crabs and hundreds of small snails. I was so happy to see this. I remember other times recently when there was not one bit of life. Still, it hurts that I have to “be happy” for such a small banquet of what I experienced in my childhood.
“If we can just hold off Lake Okeechobee releases…” I thought and was pleased the ACOE has done so for most of this year. Lake Worth Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee have not been so lucky.
Here, the rains began in late May and the river’s a little darker, not the turquoise blue you sometimes see. Nonetheless, the water looked good and and many families were enjoying themselves. Ed anchored being careful of grasses. I took a walk while he fished. Together we photographed the area.
-Boy Scout Island lies between Sewall’s and Sailfish Points near the Sailfish Flats and St Lucie Inlet -Seagrass beds slowly recovering just off Boy Scout Island 6-5-21-Excessive sargassum weed and macro-algae not as welcome to see a budding seagrasses-Head of horseshoe crab – maybe molted. Good sign they are still here! -Thousands of snails leaving paths in the sand-A small hermit crab took someone’s shell. A nice one! -Little snails up close-Hand sized hermit crabs, old friends. Once there were thousands. We held races on the beach.-Boy Scout Island is a mangrove island with tidal areas for wildlife. We visited at low tide.Next, Ed and I got back in the boat and jutted through the Crossroads, me holding on for dear life again, -Ed in his glory! Spray on our faces! We arched off around the sea of boats onto a large sandbar close to the St Lucie Inlet.
It was a great adventure anchoring and then walking in the waist high water to the sandbar. I felt like I was a kid again roaming around, looking for shells, breathing in the clear air, lost in the happiness of the experience. We found quite a few fighting conch, pin shells, and clam like creatures all alive inside their shells! But no queen conch. Ed decided to go check that the anchor still held.
I wandered around losing track of time. I don’t think think there is anything more I love than this. I collected shells. Looked in holes. Birds rested and hunted for food. I even saw an osprey catch a fish in the lagoon’s shallow waters. The cloud formations were unbelievable.
When I finally returned to the boat, Ed was asleep. What a classic!
“This is the Life.”
This is the life indeed!-Pin shell and mollusk-Fighting Conch – orange in color -Tiny bit of seagrass and macroalge -Ed sleeps, Sandbar, St Lucie Inlet
It was Memorial Day weekend and there was just enough time to go see that place…
Walton Scrub is easy to pass. Located at 10809 S. Indian River Drive between Jensen and Ft Pierce, the only clue that it exist is a sign and a small parking area. Look east for a marvelous view of the Indian River Lagoon. Turn west and find 33-hidden acres containing threatened and endangered plants found only in the habitat of scrub. A half- mile self-guided interpretive trail is available on line.
~Ed agreed to go so long as I drove and if it only took an hour.
“So you really want to show me this scrub again?Haven’t you already taken me to places like this?”
“Ed, I have but every place is different. You never know what you may see!”
I became interested in scrub environments about three years ago. Scrub seemed more interesting once I realized how ecologically valuable it is and how humans have gobbled-up almost every inch for development. I have so many memories of running through scrub as a kid and today there is basically “none” left.
My childhood home in St Lucie Estates had been a sand pine forest, and there were many empty lots. I remember sand pines, scrub oaks, gopher tortoises, scrub jays, and indigo snakes. I remember hot white sands and blue tailed skinks. For me, even today, the sand pine scrub represents my childhood.
And in this special preserve, this Walton Scrub, on this special day, Ed and I found the most enormous sand pine trees I have ever seen. Bent and enduring; tremendous and old. I felt as though I was looking at a ponderosa itself!
“Holy cow, Ed, look at the size of this sand pine!” I shouted out, running my hand over the rugged bark.
“Now that is big Jacqui.”
“Yes! It’s huge. Bigger than any I have seen. These are very special.” I marveled while Ed took my picture.“Amazing.” I thought.
We started down the Interpretive Trail learning about a former pineapple plantation, hickory trees, sand oaks, sand pines, and a host of other familiar but different flora and fauna.
“Look how white the sand is! Isn’t it cool?”
Ed smiled, we walked down the trail finding a menagerie of interesting things and a few more gigantic sand pines, as well as a gorgeous live oak.
“That is a beautiful oak tree Ed. Smile!”-Sand Pine cone must be exposed to fire to open making it harder to reproduce.-Another huge sand pine-Sand pine bark-Wind swept gigantic sand pine We walked under a fallen tree, then Ed saw something that really interested him. The railroad tracks. We could see that the tracks were being doubled. We talked about how much a high-speed train would change the Treasure Coast’s character and how things had changed it before, -like the first time Henry Flagler came though these sand dunes.
It seemed in no time we were through. Ed and my short but wonderful walk back in time was also a reminder of future change. I’m just glad, Ed and I saw the biggest sand pines we have ever experienced. “You never know what you may see.” And now, Ed agrees!
-Ed studies changes to the railroad tracks.-A sand pine forest of tall thinner trees-Rosary pea-Maybe a harvester ant pile-Prickly Pear delicious for gopher tortoises–Gopher tortoises are keystone species creating habitat for hundreds of more animals-Gopher habitat- you can make you yard more appealing to gophers by letting parts go natural-Young sand oak and reindeer moss a classic feature of a scrub habitat-Sand pines are known for leaning due to wind-Pretty lichen atop oak bark- white and pink-Ed gets his photo before a giant sand pine too! -Budding hammock paradise tree
Since I last wrote #2, the St Lucie River has NOT been bombed and is in pretty good shape as the ACOE is not discharging from Lake Okeechobee thought the St Lucie Locks and Dam, S-80 structure. Algae is coming in through S-308 at Port Mayaca as this water is being used for agricultural water supply, but for now, it is relegated to the edges of the C-44 canal. Cities in Palm Beach County near the Lake Worth Lagoon have not been so fortunate as a cyanobacteria was found in their water supply right at the start of the Memorial Day weekend; and the Caloosahatchee on the west coast, which has been taking Lake Okeechobee discharges while the St Lucie has not, has pockets of blue green algae reported.
Things may start heating up even more for all waterbodies as June is the month one “normally” finds cyanobacteria in Lake Okeechobee. May, this 2021, was very early to have such a large bloom. Please see my brother, Todd’s, website EYEONLAKEO for updates on both the St Lucie and now also the Calooshatchee daily discharge numbers ~and much much more!
St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Boaters enjoy at sandbar Memorial Day weekend, 5-30-21. The water from the lake and C-44 is not getting to the river as S-80 is closed. All photos Ed Lippisch
Blue Green Algae not far away in C-44 canal kept inside by S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam.
Visible algae at the S-308, Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee leading into C-44 canal
West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach. The best article to explain this situation was written by reporter Kimberly Miller in Sunday’s Palm Beach Post. The situation is complicated in that these cities receive their drinking water via surface waters. Sometime used is water brought in through Lake Okeechobee. In late April blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) was found in the canals leading into this area from Lake Okeechobee and immediately this input was shut down. The cyanobacteria found in Clear Lake is not microcystin we are so used to talking about, but another, cylindrospermopsin. Nonetheless, this cyanobacteria was documented in Lake Okeechobee in 2001 by the state algae task force. I think this situation will be a serious game changer for the state of Florida and it’s failure to address significant and meaningful water quality regulations.
I had driven past hundreds of times, but never stopped. Mostly because of the traffic and because by the time I noticed the sign, it was well in my rear view mirror as I navigated a sea of cars. This small section of Savannas Preserve State Park lies on the west side of US1 just south of Crosstown Parkway not too far from the boarder of Martin and St Lucie counties.
There were no signs of people. I put a few dollars into the state payment box and tore off the lip of the baby-blue envelope to hang on my mirror.
“Wow. This is cool I thought. I’m finally here.”
I noticed a sheriff car. I drove down a winding road through the middle of Florida scrub and what was perhaps once pine flatwoods. As in all Florida, drainage and development has altered the landscape but here there was plenty of “Old Florida” remaining. I felt relaxed and a hundred miles away from civilization!I drove slowly hoping to see a gopher turtle, noticing a sign to share the road.“This is amazing,” I thought. Once, all along US1 was scrub habitat. Think of all the animals. Think of all the birds. Think of the Native People. Think of the pioneers who where the first to clear this land…
I saw beautiful white sand, pine trees, woodpeckers, and little sparrow like birds I didn’t know. I saw sand pines and slash pines. One slash pine so large I wondered if it had escaped the loggers and turpentine men. I turned my head to see an osprey gliding over the savannas.
-A sand pine-Scrub habitat-white sands-a slash pine“Praise to the people who saved these places.” I thought. I could hear the hum of US1 in the near distance…
Finally, I made it down to the end of the road, maybe a half mile or so, and there was a cul-de-sac and neatly folded information under a shaded area.
“Oh my gosh” I thought, “I’m at the river. I’m at the North Fork of the St Lucie River!”
I guess I knew that, but I certainly wasn’t thinking I was that close to the north fork every time I drove down busy US1 to Stuart. Somehow with all the cars, with all the noise, with all the technology, with all the billboards, it seemed much further away.
I parked, got out of the car, and walked around. I looked in the tannin waters. I thought about how great it was that no houses were here. “All these years; my whole life really, and I have never visited this place! Incredible.” It was so good to see fish jumping and wading birds hunting in almost total privacy. And for people there was a great canoe/kayak launch.As I walked back towards my car, I couldn’t believe my luck. A gopher turtle was happily eating along the dunes. I pondered the passage of time knowing this gopher’s ancestors also ate from these dunes, hundreds of thousands of years ago when they were islands in an inland sea…
It felt magical to be here knowing a busy modern world was only feet away. A little piece of Florida along US1 can go a long way.
Dr Mark Ian Cook is smiling. And he should be. It is looking like the the birds and wildlife of the Everglades may end up having one of the best years ever! Dr Cook is the Scientific Section Lead of the Systemwide Everglades Group for the South Florida Water Management District. He received his B.S. at Bangor University; his M.S. at the University of Durham; his Ph.D at the University of Glasgow; completed Post Doc work at UC Berkley; then in 2004 was hired SFWMD Lead Scientist rising to his position today. Cook’s seventeen years of SFWMD scientific photography and publication has required him to take hundreds of helicopter flights throughout the greater Everglades-and literally hundreds of thousands of aerial photographs (data). Dr Cook has seen it all. He was there last year when the rains came early and thousands of wood storks and other wading birds watched their almost fully fledged chicks starve. But this year, this year is different! This year, more chicks may fledge than Mark has ever witnessed…
Before I wrote this post we spoke by phone. “Hello Dr Cook,” I said. “Please call me Mark,” he replied. “We just landed in Homestead to fuel up.” I could hear the helicopter blades swishing.
“How are the birds? Are they still doing well? “ I asked, speaking very loudly.
“They are phenomenal! They are in heaven!” He replied in a wonderful English accent.
“That’s great!” I said.“Tell them hello!” I heard him laughing.
Thank you to the Arts Council of Martin County for featuring Dr Cook’s 2021 Virtual Gallery, “When Flows Return to the River of Grass.” I invite you to partake in this wonderful year for our Everglades wildlife. Take a look at what happens “When Flows Return to the River of Grass.”
(Click on highlighted link above to walk through virtual galley)
*You can also learn and enjoy from Dr Cook’s work on Facebook.
Port Mayaca, Structure S-308 at Lake Okeechobee opens to Canal-44 into St Lucie River. S-308 is open for water supply for agriculture but is not going through S-80 into the St Lucie River/ Indian River Lagoon. Aerial, Ed Lippisch, 5-5-21.
River Warrior Times 5-16-21. This piece is written specially for Lake Okeechobee.
It was my intension to write a summary water piece every two weeks. I last wrote on April 25, 2021.Today, I will try to catch up.
The blue-green algae bloom at Pahokee Marina, I wrote about last time, was cleaned up through a cooperative of the South Florida Water Management District and the Department of Environmental Protection. This is a first as globs of purple, blue, green, and grey cyanobacteria -blue green algae- sat in marinas and inside canal communities in 2016, and 2018 until they rotted and fell to the bottom. This time, under Governor DeSantis of which DEP and the SFMWD sit organizationally, it was determined (under Section 1 part I of 19-12) to remove the toxic algae via vacuum and chemical treatment, relocating what Palm Beach County could not take safely, far away to District lands away from people and wildlife.
Keith W. Babb, Mayor of Payhokee, attend the May 13 SFWMD Governing Board meeting and was very grateful. You can listen to his comments at 39.00 the beginning of the meeting. Congressman Brian Mast, who led Governor DeSantis’ transition committee, also provided fiery commentary.
Although it is definitely a positive that the toxic algae was removed, we must ask ourselves a question. How are we going to pay for this again, and again, and again? A precedent has been set. Is vacuuming each time sustainable? With Lake Okeechobee in its present condition this is a very relevant question.
As Mark Perry, the Executive Director of Florida Oceanographic has repeatedly stated: “Unless we address the source of the problem in the upper watershed of Lake Okeechobee, we will never reach the 105 metric tons at 40 ppb.” Translated, that means the pollution numbers coming into the lake are high, in some basins over 600 parts per billion phosphorus. You can’t vacuum away as an avalanche of pollution pours in!
The situation is complex. However, the handling of Pahokee Marina is symbolic of a larger problem. I would have liked not only DEP and SFWMD to be in the spotlight at the Pahokee Marina, but also FDASCs the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Why? Because the lake did not get sick overnight, and the history of Lake Okeechobee is an agricultural one. This is reflected in “who” is in charge of water quality.
First, back-pumping fertilized and chemical-leaden water into Lake Okeechobee was common practice and allowed by the by the state. The sugar industry/EAA imparticularly partook of this practice for decades. It almost killed the lake. In the 1970s and 1980s lawsuits forced water that was once back-pumped into Lake Okeechobee to flow south, sparing the lake, but creating a new issue of destroying the Everglades. This in turn spurred other lawsuits so that today Everglades Agriculture Area (EAA) runoff must first be filtered through Storm Water Treatment Areas, south of Lake Okeechobee before it can enter the Everglades Protection Areas or Everglades National Park. Most of this was paid for by taxpayers, just like the clean up at Pahokee Marina.
Lake Okeechobee, though in a better position than in 1970 continues to be fed high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen mostly from agriculture areas north of Lake Okeechobee. Thus destruction already done from the early years is locked up in sediments, and the new destruction that continues makes for a hyper-eutropic lake that now blooms every year.
Not a good situation. So how is fixing our waters supposed to work? Who is in charge of water quality?
No one agency is in charge of water quality. Like it or not, in Florida, three agencies have this responsibility. As Florida Statue requires, we must all work together to turn Florida’s organizational chart from a line into a triangle. Until FDEP, SFWMD & FACS are truly working together, there will not be improvement to Lake Okeechobee’s water quality and Florida’s tax payers will be on the hook.
–Organizational chart State of Florida. Note the members of The Triangle (circled) responsible of water quality. The Dept. of Ag is a cabinet position. DEP and SFWMD are lower agencies but fall under the top tier, the governor. The governor is doing a great job but he can not do it alone!
On April 29, 2021, I took a tour, with SFWMD staff, led by LeRoy Rodgers, Section Leader, Vegetative Management, 21 years; Christen Mason, Invasive Species Biologist, 7 years; and Brenda Mills, Principal Project Manger, Everglades Restoration, 23 years. Serious experience! The goal was to tour and learn about Frog Pond restoration, the C-111 project sites, and the 8.5 Square Mile Area. So what is the Frog Pond anyway? There’s no easy explanation, but I’ll try. The Frog Pond can best described as the “end of the road or the beginning of the road,” Ingram Highway that is. The end of the road for Florida City and the beginning of the road for Everglades National Park. Looking at the map provided by the SFWMD, one can see that the Frog Pond is the long yellow rectangle below; pink contains the C-111 South Dade Project of which Frog Pond is part; and the blue section at the top is the 8.5 Square Mile Area.So before we start jumping around…
Ecologically, this area is part of the Everglades Keys, the marl transverse glades, (where water once seeped through from the River of Grass) south of Miami.
-Landscapes and Hydrology of the Predrainage Everglades, page 49, 2011, McVoy.So how about today?
First, we must recognize the hard work of the public, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the USACOE, the National Park system, and others. In the 1980s and 1990 all fought and achieved the EvergladesNationalParkProtectionandExpansionAct with the goal of protecting the eastern agriculture areas from flooding, but achieving more water into Everglades Nation Park. No easy task!
“To quote the book, page 257, River of Interests: “TheInteriorDepartmentandtheNational Park Systemagreedthatacquisition of Frog Pond was essential, claiming that it would restore freshwater to Florida Bay.” And as all has evolved, this is indeed being accomplished. Here is an excellent 2021 explanation from SFWMD Chief District Engineer and Assistant Executive Director, John Mitnick.
“The Frog Pond Detention Area is a project in South Dade along the eastern side of ENP, and just southeast of the S-332D Detention Area. It is part of the C-111 Spreader Canal CERP project. Originally it was a detention area, meaning water was pumped into it and detained before it would evaporate or seep out into the groundwater table. The purpose being to create a hydraulic ridge in the groundwater table (raise the groundwater elevation) to prevent groundwater and surface water from seeping out of ENP to the east. Around 2016 the District undertook a project called the Florida Bay Project where we modified the detention areas to allow surface water to overland flow out of the detention cells into the headwaters of Taylor Slough after water had passed through the detention cells. This way it was a more direct hydration of the Taylor Slough. Since it was completed, the project has been very effective at providing additional water to Taylor Slough.”
In its days as agriculture fields, the Frog Pond’s marl and limestone was mechanically ground up to create soil for crops. Though helpful for growing a menagerie of delicious things, this practice was very destructive to the ecology of the already drained lands.
Today the SFWMD has the lead on improving these lands. Christen Mason, Invasive Species Biologist and LeRoy Rodgers Section Leader, Vegetative Management, were proud to show me their restoration work.
The photo below is an excellent example comparing the invasive Napier Grass, on the right, which had totally taken over this area, and the restored rocky marl lands to the left-that have been “restored.”
Napier Grass is also called Elephant Grass and is a wicked invasive and very difficult to remove. Another invasive species, Burmese Pythons, are known to hide in it.
-Left restored. Right full of invasive Napier GrassSo we can see that what was once a monoculture of invasive African Napier Grass is now a combination of native grasses and shrubs. A place for native birds and wildlife. This has taken decades. In some areas, pine trees were planted. Their pert green shoots explode against a blue sky. I hear chirps and singing insects everywhere! I keep looking for a frog, but don’t hear any.
-Christen Mason shows how the rock was ground up for soil-Native grasses and flowers have returned-LeRoy Rodgers holds a wildflower, and beautiful red bug -Pretty! Lots of butterflies! -Gymnosperma glutinosum, Michelle’s favorite!-Calopogon tuberosus-a young slash pine reaching for the sky!-wild porter weed-a future forest-Beautiful native grasses and flowers-wild milkweed?-a cool water filled solution hole keeps life in dry times-note hammock in background. Lucky Hammock is most famous and a magnet for birds and bird watchers.-Christen poses for the camera. Surrounded by her creations!
Next we drove north and hopped into a hammock. Frog Pond has famous hammocks especially in the west where lands were less disturbed. As we walked the rocky decline from the road, staff asked me if I was allergic to poison-wood or afraid of rattlesnakes. “Neither.” I replied. Proud my parents raised me like they did. Setting up my chair confidently, I took bite of my sandwich in the cool shade.
The day was getting hot and we had to drive back to West Palm Beach, so next we jumped right along to the pump station!
Below is Structure-176, not too far north of the Frog Pond. This station pumps water that wants to go through those old marl transverse glades back into structures of the pink area creating the hydraulic ridge Mr Mitnick wrote about. This ridge keeps water inside Everglades National Park- upper ground and surface water.
We jumped back into the truck, and just when when I thought my trip couldn’t get any better, the most wonderful thing occurred. As we approached I saw all these colored spots in the distance. I strained my eyes.
“Oh my gosh!” I yelled.
Hundreds of wading birds had gathered. Wood storks, ibis, white egrets, blue herons, roseate spoon bills, and many others feasted, crammed together, on collections of fish and crustaceans.
I silently slid out of the truck, watching and trying not to disturb them. But as the trucks went past the birds lifted into the sky, squawking and flapping, then circling right back to their watery dinner table! I was in awe. “This is what it is all about,” I thought to myself. Like a description of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a sea of birds rose from the Everglades and blocked out the sun. My eyes filled with tears… My hope renewed for our wildlife, our lands, and our waters.
-Birds fly!AWSOME BIRD VIDEO!
I wiped the tears from my eyes. Staff was moved as well. We knew we had just witnessed the best of Everglades restoration. It is working.
For the next leg, I drove with Brenda Mills, Principle Project Manager, Everglades Restoration. I learned she was not only an accomplished engineer but also an avid birdwatcher and had even chaired her local chapter of the Native Plant Society!
As we got out of the trucks for our final look around, I was told we were standing in the at controversial 8.5 Square Mile Area. Lands before me had been scraped and restored, piles of earth rose to the horizon. Behind me, tall Royal Palms blew in the wind. I could see an orange painted house through the Napier Grass, Australian Pines, and animals roaming.
The wind blew, the dust rose. “It will start raining soon.” Brenda said. “This landscape will look totally different then, you should come back.”
“Will do,” I said. “I want to see the waters tumbling into Taylor Slough.” We laughed knowing this area can go from dessert like to Colorado River within hours. I finally knew something about the Frog Pond; I had seen and learned so much. I wished I could stay longer at this amazing place. We all looked at each other, smiling. I kept listening -just hoping that before I left, I would hear one frog chirping. I thought I did, but it must have been a goat. What a day at the Frog Pond!
-SFWMD’s Christen, Rory, and Barbara are doing great work! Thanks for the tour! -Invasive Nadier Grass and Australian Pines in the 8.5 Square Mile Area-An area adjadcent to the 8.5 Square Mile Area that is is slowing being restored. It was once entirely full of Napier Grass. The birds and animals are coming back. -one last photo before we drive home 🙂
Picayune Stand’s story is the story of Florida at its very worst, and at its very best.
In the 1940s and 50s, this 74,000 acres was logged of its giant cypress; in the 1960s, Gulf American Land Corporation “dynamited” canals, and roads were built for “Golden Gate Estates,” a Florida real estate scheme that never materialized. Gulf American sold plenty of swamp land, finally going bankrupt. This most beautiful of places was left broken and ravaged. Times changed. The public fought for these lands, and in 2000, Picayune Strand became elevated as the first project of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP. It is almost done…
On April 29, I visited this CERP project held and managed as Picayune Strand State Forest. Its stakeholders include the Florida Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, South Florida Water Management District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Florida Wildlife Commission, and Collier County. It was an inspiring field trip that I will share with you today.
SFWMD Lead Project manager, Joanna Weaver, and I drove for two hours to arrive at our destination in Collier County. Around a picnic table, we met ecologist, Mike Duever; Florida Forest Service biologist, Mike Knight; and Florida Forest Service fire expert, Sean Allen. As we all stood or sat around the table six feet apart, Mr Duever, thoughtfully gave his presentation. I listened intently. I think at first, he may have seen me a “lady from the city,” but I quickly won him over with my knowledge and love of plants and animals. After an excellent hour of intense slides and discussion, we paired off in trucks to take a tour. I was partnered with Mr Duever.-There is north Golden Gate Estates and south Golden Gate Estates. Picayune Strand State Forest is “south Golden Gate Estates” -south of I-75 (Alligator Alley). North Golden Gate Estates (north of I-75) is a neighborhood. On the map below, you can see the outlines of the roads now labeled as Picayune Strand State Forest south of I-75. The roads you see north of I-75 comprise the neighborhood of north Golden Gate Estates. The north was developed; the south became Picayune Stand State Forest. -Mr Duever’s handout demonstrates what was on the lands and is now removed, or in the process thereof. First, logging trams in red; Second, canals in blue; and roads in grey. Mind you the property is 74,000 acres! -This is the back page of Mr Duever’s handout. Blue boxes equal the year/s canals were filled and thus the number of growing seasons for recovering vegetation and trees. Yellow boxes equal the year/s roads were removed thus also the number of growing seasons. Some areas have had more time to heal than others. -In this handout, note three red squares at the top of the image. These red squares represent the three pump stations that are/will create sheet flow, restoring the hydrology and creating healthy habitat. Miller Pump Station, (far left), must meet flood protection standards for Lipman Farms on the east. This is being addressed now. Lipman Farms granted an easement for the building a protection levee. The entire project must not jeopardize flood protection for northern Gold Gate Estates, thus the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers portion of the CERP project, the gigantic pumps! -Below: Sean Allen of the Florida Forest Service loves his job. “Have you ever seen a panther?” I asked.” Absolutely!” He replies, looking in every direction. Picayune Strand is Panther Mitigation habitat for the state of Florida. This is panther country!
I was very lucky to be paired up with Mike Duever. He has devoted his life to the restoration of these lands working first with National Audubon, then a long career with the SFWMD. He now works as a consultant for the SFWMD because no one knows the project like he does.
As he calmly took me over the bumpy roads, all the years, all of the ups and downs, all of the successes, all of the disappointments since 2000, I asked: “Are you ever upset that Picayune is not finished yet?”
“Jacqui,” he replied, looking at me with steel violet eyes, “restoration is full of “surprises.”What’s important is to do it the right way.” His glance veered off to the horizon.
By the end of the day, I felt I’d met John Muir himself.
We drove and drove. There were times it was just quiet.
I saw a giant eagle’s nest, deer, blue herons, alligators and beautiful wildflowers. We drove, got out, got in. There were miles of filled-in canals and roads made one with the earth around them. The forest retuning…
Things weren’t perfect. Mr Duever spoke of an invasion of sable palms and the forestry service explained how the palms act as a middle story between the lower and upper stories, something these lands never had, sometimes promoting out of control wildfires that kill everything.
So much had been accomplished. So much was left to do…
It was complicated. Restoration is complicated. But like Mike Duever taught me that day, it is not about getting rattled by the “surprises,” it’s about the long view. It is about the horizon.
One day, not too far away, all of the giant pumps, not just two, will spread out the “flood waters” creating a sheet flow across the lands during the wet season. All of the trams, and roads will have been removed and the canals will all have been filled, leaving little pools for life to gather. The groundwater will synchronize; the cypress will come in where now willow stands. The wading birds will have thousands of areas to nurture their young. The panther will roam looking for deer and hog and the cry of eagle will echo through the cypress strands.
It will happen. Don’t look down. -Horizon.
-Mike Duever -Too many sable palms endanger the pines and cypress when fire strikes. Many must be removed.-Mr Duever holds a wildflower, Pink-Sabitia -Filled in canal -Removed roadbed. In time, vegetation will grow in.-Some areas of canals are left for water -Wildflowers and uplands-a giant blue bee! -Joanna assesses progress and things yet to come… -The history of Florida is written in these rocks piled high along the canals.-Mike Duever explains that this area was the greatest of the ancient cypress swamp. The willow he says is a precursor for its return. -A young cypress-A pond/canal adjacent to the former cypress swamp expands and contracts with the seasons. It is filled with fishes and gators. Look a snail! Life is retuning…
-Final visit, the pump stations. Ominous! These things are huge and impressively spotless.
We meet Charles Hendrickson, a wildlife-loving engineer who works for the SFWMD. “I love the nature here. It’s getting to be more and more.” I count 12 alligators near the intake canal and six standing wading birds. He tells me he once saw flamingos! Next, taking his phone out of his pocket, Charles shows me a photograph of hundreds of white pelicans that visited the Merrit Pump Station just days days before. Incredible! As I wave goodbye, I notice Charles looking beyond.