When you are driving around today, do you ever wonder what things looked like before humans changed things so much? I do.
I think about it mostly in the context of deteriorating water quality and trying to wrap my head around the story of how we got to where we are today.
My mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, recently shared these photos. I think they make a point. Both photos belonged to Stuart’s renowned pioneer Kitching family. The first photo was hand titled “Lover’s Lane,” by Josephine Kitching and is marked 1907. That same photo was used by Mr Stanley Kitching to made into a beautiful color postcard to market our area. According to my mother, the quality color printing was only offered in Germany pre World War 1, (1914-1918).
Compare the images. You can see that the second post card is the same image as the first, but now colorized and professionally entitled: “Tall Trees through the Pines, Stuart, Fla.”
My mother wrote of this photo: “Jacqui, This postcard was printed in Germany so it was before WWI. I think it was printed around 1907. It was one of a series ordered by Stanley Kitching and is very early. I think this is the trail that became U. S. 1 (Avenue E.) Mom”
In any case, if indeed this is the old Avenue E that became Stuart’s US1 look what it used to be – a Sand Pine Community, now one of the the rarest in the world. A community whose white sands used to clean and purify the water…There were thousands of acres in today’s Stuart, Martin County, and along all of Florida’s east coast and central high ridges. (https://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00000505/00001/1x)
I am thankful for those who saved these habitats so we can see how rain water was once cleansed, naturally.
Sand Pine Habitat has a fascinating ecological history. Our history. You can read more here:
“Scrubs dominated by a canopy of sand pine are usually found on the highest sandy ridgelines. The pine canopy may range from widely scattered trees with a short, spreading growth form, to tall thin trees forming a dense canopy of uniform height. The sand pine scrub understory is characterized by either scrub oaks or Florida rosemary.”(https://www.fnai.org/PDF/NC/Scrub_Final_2010.pdf)
For a number of weeks now, I have been on this quest to be able to identify pine trees as the history of our forests are connected to the our St Luice River. To get me started, my mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, lent me a number of books, historic photographs, and great old newspaper articles. What I thought would be easy has ended up being hard.
Today, I am going to begin my pine tree series, asking for your help, starting with the example of the post card above. This ca. pre 1900 post card shows something we do know: Stuart, Martin County was once covered in pine forests, mostly sand pines or slash pines, but throughout varied texts that are references to other types of pines too.
According to column entitled “Memories of Early Forests In This Area” written on January 24th, 1974 by Stuart News editor, Ernie Lyons “most of the virgin longleaf yellow pines…were logged off from 1918-1928.”It has been confusing to me that Mr Lyons an avid naturalist, mentions longleaf yellow pines, rather than slash pines, but as all the trees were cut, I doubt I will ever know for sure the answer to this question: “Were there any longleaf pines in the lands that became Martin County?
Mr Lyons also notes: “They were magnificent trees, some towering to 60 feet. Where the big pines prevailed there was almost no undergrowth , just a forest floor carpeted with pine needles and giant cones.“
Pine identification is hairsplitting but it is easy to see that the longleaf pine has the giant pine cones, not the two varieties of slash pine, nor a sand pine. This leaves one wondering, could Ernie Lyons possibly be talking about longleaf pine? https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FR/FR00300.pdf
Below is Ernie Lyons’ column. What pine or pines do you think he is taking about? 🙂
Most of the virgin longleaf yellow pines in this part of Florida were logged off form 1918 to 1928. They were magnificent trees, some towering to 60 feet. Where the big pines prevailed there was almost no undergrowth, just a forest floor carpeted with pine needles and giant cones.
The big stands were practically immune to the ravages of fire. There simply wasn’t enough undergrowth to send the flames high enough to reach viable limbs and branches. But the lumberman’s crosscut saw was a different matter.
This not to say that all of Martin and St Lucie counties was tall yellow pine country. The big pines did not favor high water tables. The were most avoidant on the high ground along the North and South Forks of the St Luice. There were scattered strands on high ridges in western Martin County and dense forests between Indiantown and Okeechobee.
Three big mills operated in the area at that time. One of the largest was at Rio, with a logging railroad which ran from there across the North Fork at about the site of the present Port St. Lucie bridge over the river. Another mill, which left a giant pile of sawdust was located on the upper North Fork about half a mile west of the present mouth of C-24, then called Cane Slough Creek. There was a giant lumber and turpentine operation at Sherman west of Indiantown.
By the time the Florida Boom collapsed in 1928, there were not enough big trees left to make it worthwhile to operate large mills and the bottom had fallen out of lumber prices.
Then began the era of the small “hit and run” portable saw mills. These gathered in the few big trees overlooked becasue they were in dense hammocks and so hard to get out that the effort had not been worth the trouble.
The small operators cut anything big enough to saw a two-by-four from. Timber leasing was often overlooked entirely. If leasing was observed, the usual practice was to lease a quarter section and then timber the sections around it on all sides.
By the early 1940s, the county was practically denuded of pines bigger than three or four inches in diameter. It was a scraggly, ugly county, its natural beauty demolished shamefully. There has been a remarkable recovery in the past 34 years, but the pines of any size that you see now are mostly second growth and will never equal the old virgin forests.
The only evidence of the the former forests in most of the county is pitch pine stumps, and in recent years most of these have been removed and shipped off to make resin, turpentine, and dynamite.
I saw the virgin yellow pine forests up the North Fork and they are a marvelous sight to remember. They were the haunt of the huge Florida fox squirrels, big as cats- black, black and white, grey and reddish. When the big pines went, fox squirrels became scarce.
Some of he tallest pines, especially near lakes and along the river, had stick nests of bald eagles in their crowns. One over near the south end of Mile Lake, had a pair of the most aggressive eagles I ever saw, especially when there were newly hatched eagles up above. I discovered it was not safe to come within a few hundred feet of that tree without being dive -bombed in turn by Ma and Pa.
Wild turkeys used to stroll singe file through the tall pine forests as also did sandhill cranes.
“This 1905 photo is of Margaret Andrews and Rudolph Tietig walking through the property that, at the time, belonged the Twichells – located between today’s Hillcrest and Heritage subdivisions.” Historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow
Today’s historic photographs, shared by my mother, allow us to imagine what the high west side of Sewall’s Point in Martin County looked like before it was cleared for agriculture and development. Yes, although today a few prize trees remain, once, the peninsula’s entire high west side was covered in a hardwood hammock: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW20600.pdf; https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw206
We still see many Live Oaks, Sabal Palms, and a few Gumbo Limbo, but other names such as Paradise Tree; Mastic; Srangler Fig; Hickory; Satin Leaf; Marlberry, Myrsine, Ironwood, and Pigeon plum are much more rare.
As was the custom of the day, and remains so, these trees were cleared. Perhaps some were used for lumber. But for the most part, there was little thought of saving them, nor of the birds and wildlife that depended on the tangled forest for shelter and food.
I think this is worth thinking about. We walk about today somewhat unaware of what the land previously looked like, forgetting forest’s relationship to water, and how many creatures have been impacted by these human changes.
Could we recreate the forests? This is doubtful, but we could bring some of it back. In order to do this, we need more than photographs, we need a native hardwood hammock -“to see.”
We are very lucky to live in Martin County, a county that has a history of conservation. When researching the Sewall’s Point hammock, I realized I had never visited Maggy’s Hammock Park in Port Salerno. (https://www.martin.fl.us/MaggysHammock). Named after environmentalist and long time county Martin County commissioner, Maggy Hurchalla, this park is a treasure, a walk back into time. This native site, just a few miles south and across the St Lucie River from Sewall’s Point, preserves ancient live oaks, paradise trees, strangler figs, and many, many others as well as the important understory.
It is a true hardwood hammock!
Considering the location, these trees must be similar to native Sewall’s Point’s. This was my first visit and I will be back as I try to rediscover the beauty and the benefits of the “Once Tangled Forest.”
Work on the C-44 Reservoir and Storm Water Treatment Area started back in 2004 and is one of a few gigantic water projects of the Army Corp of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District. The mammoth construction site is part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Indian River Lagoon South. In Martin County, the foundation for this was laid back in 1996 and 1998, and then again in 2006 when the public supported environmental land purchases through a sales tax: https://www.martin.fl.us/land-acquisition
Recently, the SFWMD has made great progress for water quality projects with strong backing from the public (fed up with toxic algae blooms), Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature.
Today I will be sharing three things: a flyover with my husband Ed; a field trip led by the SFWMD to C-44 with Florida Sportsman Magazine; and the grand finale, the visit of Governor Ron DeSantis to allow the first waters of the C-44 Canal to flow into the STAs.
Why has everything taken so long? We’ll there are many reasons but we must note the 2008 Great Recession, politics, and most of all, the project’s size!
The map above and below can give you an idea of the project’s 12, 000 acres!
Looking at the Google Map, you’ll notice that you can easily see the outline of the former groves. Perusing the map below, you can see the reservoir will be in the north west corner and the six cells of the storm water treatment area on the east. You will also notice that Allapattah Flats, once a gigantic marsh through St Lucie and Martin County, is north of the project along with Troup’s – RB Ranch – upper east. Star Farms is west and grows sugar cane at the present time. There is a long intake canal off the C-44 canal that brings in the polluted water – primarily from local farm runoff. 2/3 of Martin County is agricultural. It is important to keep these lands in agriculture as developed lands would be even harsher on the wildlife and the environment. We all, coast or inland, must work to clean things up!
FLYOVER C-44 RESERVOIR & STA, ED LIPPISCH and JTL, SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2019.
2. FIELD TRIP TO C-44 RESERVOIR & STA WITH FLORIDA SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE, and JTL led by Alan Shirkey, Bureau Chief, Engineering and Construction, SFWMD and Buff Searcy, Lead Engineer and Construction Manager, SFWMD. THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2019. This was a great opportunity and thank you to Blair Wickstrom for recommending we do such from the ground. This is were one really sees what is going on!
3. GOVERNOR DESANTIS ACTIVATES THE C-44 STA, INDIANTOWN, FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2019. A great day and an honor for me to be there up close to our wonderful new Governor!
“The SFWMD recently completed three of the six cells of the 6,300-acre treatment area and expects to have the entire STA completed next year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is building a 3,400-acre reservoir next to the STA that is expected to be completed in 2021. The C-44 Reservoir will store 50,000 acre-feet of water, including local basin runoff and Lake Okeechobee releases. This will reduce harmful releases reaching the St. Lucie Estuary that can fuel harmful algal blooms. The C-44 STA will treat the water stored in the reservoir before it is released into the estuary. “I can’t help but smile. Water flowing into this treatment area marks a momentous day in the history of the Everglades, the Treasure Coast, and the St. Lucie Estuary,” said SFWMD Governing Board Member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch. “This is the start of the road to a healthier estuary and Everglades. Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, progress on Everglades restoration is moving at a rapid pace.””
Today is November 6th. On November 4th, friend, Clerk of Court Carolyn Timmann contacted me noting that the Florida Wildlife Commission https://myfwc.com had reported that on November 2, a panther was hit and killed in Martin County.
“The remains of an adult male Florida panther, UCFP368, were recovered on 11/2/2019 in Martin County, Florida (558227, 2984817). The suspected cause of death was vehicle collision.”
Where: About two miles south of Indiantown on Highway 710 known as Beeline Highway
Sometimes we do not realize that these spectacular and rare creatures usually associated with West and Central Florida are sometimes also in our eastern Martin County ~ in our presence. While driving (especially through a Wildlife Management Area) we must be looking; be aware; slow down; and share the road. In this unfortunate instance, Highway 710 (Beeline Highway) cuts right through prime wildlife habitat and is very near Indiantown, Florida. I have written earlier blog post about panthers being reported in western Palm City. They are here…
Comments of interests of my conversations with very helpful FWC. Thank you to FWC for all of your work.
“It is not rare for it to be uncollared. In fact, most panthers are not radiocollared. Currently we only have 7 panthers radiocollared; the current population range is 120-230. In years past, we had many more panthers collared. But our research focus has changed over the years and we don’t need to have as many collared at the moment.
We don’t have many panthers in that part of the state (Martin County) but they can turn up just about anywhere. We had a couple of recent sightings (trail camera photos) from Corbet (management area south of there) so we knew at least one was in that general area. There’s no way to know if this was the same one photographed. Only time will tell if we get any more photos from there.
I’ve attached our data sheet (above) that we fill out when we recover panther carcasses. Because of the location, this panther never passed through our office so we don’t have much of the information we typically collect (age, weight, etc). That information will be determined when a necropsy is performed. An FWC officer recovered the carcass and took it to a nearby field office. The location information is on here though.”
Mark Lotz, Panther Biologist, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Naples
Here is what I got from our panther team:
FWC recovered the remains of an adult male Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi), UCFP368, on 2 November 2019 in Martin County, Florida. The suspected cause of death for UCFP368 is vehicular trauma. The carcass was recovered at these coordinates: UTM easting 558227, northing 2984817. The carcass is currently at the FWC Fish Eating Creek Field Office and will be sent to the FWC Research Lab in Gainesville for a complete necropsy.
We had received a couple of trail camera photos from the Dupuis WMA back in August so this road kill could possibly be that panther.
[The identifier UCFP368 stands for Uncollared Florida Panther Number 368]
Kipp Frohlich, Director, Division of Habitatand Species Conservation, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee
When I was a kid, my brother, sister and I lived on Edgewood Drive in Stuart. My parents were great about teaching us to appreciate, respect and love wildlife. Today, many of our actions would be frowned upon. We fed the animals, and at one time or another, had wild pets. It was wonderful!
This weekend unable to garden trapped inside by relentless rain, I started thinking to myself “what did the ecosystem of my childhood backyard really look like?” That was the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Could I find anything that looked like it today? Does my yard, today, resemble it at all?
So I took a drive to the old neighborhood.
St Lucie Estates looks a lot the same but our family house has been knocked down and replaced by one much larger. Also every lot is developed. When I was growing up, our house was surrounded by a number of empty lots and as kids we roamed freely. These undeveloped lots allowed my siblings and I to have native nature right in our “backyard.”
I racked my brain to think of where I might find a comparable lot to the ones in St Lucie Estates. I wanted to see what plants were on it. What trees. The color of the sand.
I drove east on East Ocean Boulevard.
Near Kingswood Condominium I found one lot that looked a lot like the ones I ran around in as a kid. Although drained and full of invasives, the space held a few recognizables: a sand pine, a stand of sand oaks, yucca, palmettos, prickly pear cactus, and other flowering plants and grasses whose names I never learned.
Seeing the Kingwood lot brought back a lot of memories and I thought about how this once familiar habitat is basically gone. This rare Florida Scrub has been covered with shopping malls and subdivisions most sporting heavily fertilized floratam along with a variety of ornamentals.
I wondered why developers just cleared the natives. I am realizing that my childhood home must have been a Florida Scrub environment. For goodness sake, one of our favorite wild friends was the very smart Scrub Jay! We never thought that our house may have destroyed their favorite bushes. We just smiled and lifted our arms strong and high -palms perfectly flat balancing one nut. Always, they came. So smart! So consistent!
Of course Scrub Jays are now a threatened species whose habitat is considered to be one of the most endangered in the world…
~The location of my childhood backyard.
After getting the photos from Kingwood, I decided to drive north to Jensen to visit Hawk’s Bluff off of Savannah Road. Here I could walk and remember the some of the sights of my childhood. This is one of the few places the Florida Scrub Ecosystem has been saved.
~The wind whistled through the trees. I felt timeless. The rain had brightened the usually muted colors. I sat on the bench. Lake Henderson’s grey and purple reflection resembled a Monet. It was beautiful!
I was alone in my childhood backyard…
I raised my arms above my head, hands upright bent -perfectly flat.
Would a Scrub Jay come to visit?
I held my arms up until I could no longer -putting them down- I got up to walk my adult path.
Visit #1 one of the last undeveloped lots near Kingswood Condominium, East Ocean Drive, Stuart, Florida, still reveals native scrub vegetation:
The sun’s first light rose over a gigantic crane that was displaying both the American and Florida flags. Gusts burst through the C-43 construction site as the earth slowly warmed, the giant banners flapping loudly in the wind. I smiled to myself thinking, “it really is a new day for the Caloosahatchee.”
~Confusing for those of us on the east coast, unlike the St Lucie, the Caloosahatchee sometimes needs water. The idea of the C-43 Reservoir is to both reduce the amount of water released from Lake Okeechobee that makes it to the estuary during the wet season and to store water to be released during dry season in order to help maintain an ideal salinity in the upper estuary. Right now, it is often the case that the Caloosahatchee has to “compete” with other interests for water.
With this in mind, on his second day in office, Governor DeSantis called for expediting the important long-awaited reservoir as well as adding a water quality component. People on the west coast are bold to say that DeSantis has done great things for the Caloosahatchee since day one.
Knowing I would be traveling in lands unfamiliar, I drove a day early to the C-43 site with Sean Cooley, Communications Director, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and his assisting, Mr. Carter. Thus I was able to tour before and during Governor DeSantis’ visit. It was rare opportunity to learn more about Florida’s west coast.
How would I describe the expericence?
Let me explain…
Video of going driving up the 45 foot mound to view the site of the C-43 Caloosahatchee Reservoir, 10-25-19.
On Thursday, Mr Phil Flood -SFWMD West Coast Regional Representative – was the first to give me a tour. We drove a truck up a huge mound that was weighing down clay to be used in the reservoir’s surrounding dike. When we got to the top of the 45 foot hill, Mr Flood pointed in every direction: “See that tree line? See the horizon? See the edge of that old packing house? All this all will include the reservoir…”
The wind whipped by; I held my hair out of my face, eyes squinting. I thought about the once natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. I though about how much things have changed in a hundred years.
“Just like my friend Mr Haddad told me,” I shouted across the way,” we spent a hundred years taking the water off the land and we’ll spend the next hundred years putting it back on…”
Mr Flood broke into his wonderful smile directing my eyes, again, to the horizon.
“The C-43 will be huge! The lands consists of 10, 500 square acres of former orange groves, will have 19 miles of dam embankment, 15 miles of perimeter canal, 14 major water control structures, 3 pump stations, and 3 bridges.”
“And most important, it will help save the Caloosahatchee!” I replied. We drove back down the giant mound watching the excitement as all prepared for the Governor’s arrival.
These photos in this post are from both Thursday, October 24 and Friday, October 25, 2019. They were taken as SFWMD staff along with Lane Construction Corporation, a U.S. subsidiary of Salini Impregilo prepared for the groundbreaking ceremony. The was great fanfare! We all know it’s time to fix the water!
It’s now October 25th, waiting for the Governor and First Lady to arrive!