Tag Archives: Allapattah Flats

What is, what was, Allapattah Flats?

-Photo credit: Martin County: Chair Martin County Commission, Stacey Heatherington in red, and SFWMD Governing Board, ribbon-cutting Allapattah Flats 1-21-21Yesterday, the South Florida Water Management District held a ribbon-cutting for Allapattah Flats. The celebration was for over 6000 acres of wetland restoration work completed through a partnership: specifically the South Florida Water Management Distirct, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Martin County who for a over a generation has provided leadership for natural land purchases. 

 As this recent op-ed of longtime Martin County Commissioner, Mrs Maggy Hurchalla states, bringing back wetlands is the most on the ground, real way to restore the Everglades. This means  the St Lucie River too. The beautiful bird life really appreciates this as post drainage, due to habitat destruction of wetlands, their numbers plummeted by the millions.

-Photo credit SFMWD: a juvenile little blue heron is released by Bush Wildlife Center!  -Renewed Partnerships: Rep. John Snyder; SFWWMD, JTL; MC Chair Stacy Heatherington; Comr. Doug Smith -JTL, MC Comr. Sarah Heard-SFWMD Executive Director, Drew Bartlett, JTL, & Mr. Jaun Hernandes, NRCSSo what was Allapattah Flats?

Since drainage, the lands, flora, and fauna have changed so much! It’s almost unrecognizable. To get a good idea of what it used to be, so as to understand the ribbon- cutting within the context of toady and yesterday, I knew if I was to well prepared for the event, I had to inquire with my history and map loving brother, Todd Thurlow. I am including Todd and my correspondence on this issue because it is so interesting and helpful in understanding “what is, what was, Allapattah Flats”. Our email exchange is below: 

J: “Todd tomorrow is the ribbon-cutting for Allapattah Flats. Was Allapattah Flats part of the Alipatiokee Swamp or was it separate? Was it a pine flatwoods area with small marshes or what. All these historic names sound the same. – Allapattah, Halpatiokee, Alpatiokee. I’m looking at that 1839 Gen. Z. Taylor map. Thanks.”

Above: portion of 1839 Gen. Zachary Taylor map. Allapattah and derivatives mean “Alligator” in Seminole.

T: “I think Allapattah Flats is one of those names that has moved around/changed over the years.  It’s the old Al-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp of my YouTube Video.  It was a wetland.  Not a pine forest.  It may have become a pine forest after it was drained – or had pine forests at its edges like the Savannas in Jensen.

I think of it as the area west of Green Ridge and East of the Orlando Ridge.  I don’t think it was called Flats because of the pine flatlands.  I think the name may have come from the fact that it was flat – water would slowly flow north OR south in the poorly drained marsh depending on the conditions at the time.  The excepts below speak of it including the Hungry Land Slough or being a slough itself.  The first reference shows it immediately east of the Orlando Ridge. But the Al-pa-ti-o-kee was the entire area.”

  1. Florida Geological Survey Report of Investigations no. 23 – May 16, 1960

2. Oranges and Inlets – Nathaniel Osborn 2012. As the wetlands of the IRL were drained, the names of land features shifted over the decades to reflect their changing form. Today’s “Allapattah Flats” near the St. Lucie Estuary is undoubtedly a post-drainage name for the same feature listed on nineteenth century maps as “Halpatta Swamp” or “Alpatiokee Swamp,” but the lowered water table has left the area no longer resembling wetlands. Surveys of the lands west of the St. Lucie Estuary in the decade before the completion of the St. Lucie-Okeechobee Canal suggest that the land was covered with standing water for 8-10 months of each year. In the years which followed the post-1916 Drainage Act canalization, this drained region (like much of the IRL) became citrus groves, the town of Palm City, and the post-World War II development of Port St. Lucie (figure 24).273

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3. Bill Lyons, son of Ernie Lyons,  from your blog. “During summer, sheet-flow from the Allapattah Flats converged in tiny rivulets into a deep pool with a sand bottom, the first of a series of pools connected by shallow streams of clear water that formed the headwaters of the South Fork. Dad loved that place, not just for its beauty but for its solitude. Itcould only be reached by Jeep during the wet season, so we hitched rides with the local game warden, who would drop us o􀁷 and return for us later. Clyde Butcher’s photos of the upper Loxahatchee River are the nearest thing I’ve seen to what once was the upper South Fork. Then in the fifties, construction of the FloridaTurnpike cut off the flow of freshwater to the River. Soon saltwater intrusion crept up the South Fork,impeding the spawning of its fish, and the River began to die. In 1962, a friend and I drove to the former siteof the headwaters. The area had been bulldozed and the pool had become a cattle watering hole.”

4. Florida Everglades Report 1913 – Document 379, 63d Congress, 2d session

5. The New York Botanical Garden – Green Deserts and Dead Gardens, A Record of Exploration in Florida in the Spring of 1921

J: Todd this is incredible. Thank you!

6. One more reference from The New York Botanical Garden, Old Trails and New Discoveries, A Record of Exploration in Florida in the Spring of 1919. It is pretty descriptive.  Hungry Land – southeast / Allapattah Flats northwest.This is the kind of stuff I love reading because you know what he is describing.  He describes the “distant pine wood towards the west” and a long evident tall hammock … one would have almost sworn … was a range of hills”.  He is looking at the Orlando Ridge, the southern tip of which is Indiantown.  You can still see what he sees when driving west on SR 70 or the stretch of turnpike that goes west though St. Lucie County.

J: So Todd, it sounds they drained Allapattah Flats and Hungry Land Slough in the 20s when they dredged  the St Lucie Canal from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River. What a bargain! Aggg!  Thank God we are bringing some of it back! See you tomorrow!

Released juvenile little blue heron in wetlands Allapattah Flat, photo Todd ThurlowSo as you can see what is, what was Allapattah Flats is a long story! And we began to restore history!

Todd’s pictures:  http://www.thethurlows.com/2021-01-21_AllapattahFlatsRibbonCutting/

Jacqui’s speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuklcguRVgY&feature=youtu.be

The official SFWMD stream:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hg5MksxMbX0

 

 

 

Ernie Lyons’ St Lucie Places of Magic, by Bill Lyons

The creative seed for this blog post dates back to 2011. On November 1st in 2011, my mother forwarded Bill Lyons, son of famed Stuart News conservationist and newspaperman, Ernest Lyons, an email that had been sent to me by Mrs. Sheri Anker of the St Lucie County Conservation Alliance. Sheri had come up with an idea to erect a series of signs throughout the St Lucie River highlighting the favorite spots that “Ernie” so passionately and lovingly wrote about throughout his career.

The following essay is Ernie’s son Bill’s response to my mother’s inquiry for guidance on creating a historic Ernie Lyons’ St Lucie River tour, as Sheri envisioned: “Travels with Ernie on his Rio de Luz.”

Bill’s reply was insightful, poetic, and bittersweet. Bill updated the piece in 2014 -after reading about the St Lucie’s “Lost Summer” of 2013, the tipping point causing a tsunami river movement resurgence that even from the grave, through republished essays in the Stuart News, was inspired by the spirit of Ernie Lyons. Recently my mother rediscovered Bill’s essay in her files and now seems like a good time to rethink the sign idea.

It is my wish that after we read Bill’s tribute to his father, we follow through on Sheri’s idea for signage along the St Lucie River. Indeed, it is difficult to mark what is “favorite” when you love it all, but one thing is certain, we must ensure that our beloved river and the spirit of Mr. Ernest Lyons continues so that “progress” in the future won’t mean a bulldozer.

 

Favorite Places on the River, by Bill Lyons

Ernest Lyons, my father, first came to Stuart, Florida in 1913 and lived there for most of his life. He worked at the Stuart News for 40-some years, retiring as editor in 1975. Dad loved to fish and above all he loved the St. Lucie River, an affection evident in his writings. A few years ago an admirer of that writing suggested erecting signage at Dad’s favorite places on the River. This is my response.

Ernie Lyons as a boy

Dad’s favorite places changed with the moods of the River. For instance, I’m fairly sure North Fork Bay wasn’t his favorite place the day he couldn’t find shelter there from what he called a Blue Norther. He had gathered my mother, my sister and me in his boat and set off up the River to look at a piece of land. It rained and blew all the way up the River, abated for a while as he walked over the property, and then poured buckets all the way back to Stuart. Dad never owned a boat with a cabin or a cover, and I don’t recall that Mother ever got into one of his boats again.

Classic Ernie Lyons as a newspaperman, Stuart News

Dad really did love the North Fork, though. Willard Kiplinger commissioned Florida artist Beanie Backus to do a painting for Dad – “Just contact Beanie and tell him what you want” — so Dad requested a view from the shore where the narrow North Fork opens out into North Fork Bay. Beanie took a boat out there, sketched the scene, and the finished painting hangs in our home today. Many times in the nineteen forties and early fifties, Dad drove us to Burt Pruitt’s Fish Camp, rented a skiff, and motored down to where two branches of the North Fork converge. The River then was alive with fish and birds and alligators, but by the late fifties, it was gone. Drainage from the Rim Ditch Canal (C-24) did so much damage to that part of the River that it lost its sparkle. I don’t think Dad ever went back to the North Fork; after that, he just lived with the memories.

Bean Backus, “The narrow North Fork opening out into North Fork Bay.”

When Dad wrote about festoons of asters along the banks and sprays of orchids hanging from oaks over the River, he was thinking of the South Fork in summer. He took me there many times and we caught lots of fish, but the magical memories are of the flowers and of the tarpon and manatees that came rolling by while we sat quietly watching. During summer, sheet-flow from the Allapattah Flats converged in tiny rivulets into a deep pool with a sand bottom, the first of a series of pools connected by shallow streams of clear water that formed the headwaters of the South Fork. Dad loved that place, not just for its beauty but for its solitude. It could only be reached by Jeep during the wet season, so we hitched rides with the local game warden, who would drop us off and return for us later. Clyde Butcher’s photos of the upper Loxahatchee River are the nearest thing I’ve seen to what once was the upper South Fork. Then in the fifties, construction of the Florida Turnpike cut off the flow of freshwater to the River. Soon saltwater intrusion crept up the South Fork, impeding the spawning of its fish, and the River began to die. In 1962, a friend and I drove to the former site of the headwaters. The area had been bulldozed and the pool had become a cattle watering hole.

Fork of the St Lucie, Sandra Thurlow

Dad loved many places on the River. Some nights he would drive over to Lighthouse Point (the one with the restaurant on US 1, not the development). He took a lantern, a single-tined spear, and a croaker sack and went wading for flounders. He knew just where they would be, hanging at the edge of the bar waiting for unwary fish and shrimp to wash by. A few hours later he would come home, dump a bag of flounders into the kitchen sink, and start cleaning them. Then the mud from Lake Okeechobee washed down the River and the flounders went away.

https://www.savebromeliads.com/floridas-bromeliads

Dad loved the widest part of the River, where vast schools of mullet gathered along the north shore. Tarpon and snook, seatrout and jack crevalle would attack the mullet and drive them grey-hounding in waves across the River, often all the way to the shores of Stuart. Interactions between Plains wolves and bison were no more dramatic. Much of the action happened at night as we lay in our beds, listening to the mullet thundering across the River. When hurricane season approached, immense schools of fingerling mullet moved down the River, sometimes taking several days to pass Stuart. They too ran the gauntlet of snook and jacks, and residents flocked to the shore to fish. Who then could not love the River, unless he were a mullet?

Burt Pruitt’s Fish Camp, North Fork. St Lucie River

In my early years, Dad loved the lower St. Lucie around Hell Gate, that part of the River that separates lower Sewall’s Point from Port Sewall. Again, it was the fishing that brought him there. When winter storms blew, he could find shelter in the lee of Sewall’s Point, and that’s where he would be, trolling for bluefish or bottom-fishing for weakfish. After the months-long runoff from the ’47 and ’49 hurricanes, though, the fish did not return.

Where the River rounds Sewall’s Point it meets the Indian River Lagoon and together their waters flow over large seagrass beds on their way to St. Lucie Inlet. Dad loved casting for large seatrout on the grass flats, and it was there that he and I were fishing in Dale Hipson’s iconic photo that graces one of Dad’s books.

And of course he loved the inlet, where the River meets the sea. Dad was enchanted by the place he called the Sun Parlor, the channel that hooked north around Sailfish Point and spread out to feed the adjacent grass-beds. Ancient black and red mangroves hung in the water along the channel, and sheepshead and snappers could be seen swimming among the snags in the gin-clear waters on flood tides. Sharks were not uncommon in the channel, and queen conchs and large horse conchs lived in the grass-beds. If you wanted to see a roseate spoonbill in Martin County in the fifties, that’s where it would be. Dad spent countless hours in the Sun Parlor. Then the developers came in the late fifties, and it was lost.

“Ernie with son Bill and Pudge pop-corking at the Crossroads off Sewall’s Point, 1950s” Photo courtesy of Dr. Dale Hipson. Cover of The Last Cracker Barrel by Ernest Lyons

Dad loved Bessey Creek, a tributary of the lower North Fork, and once in the early fifties he accompanied me and two other boys on a camping trip to the upper reaches of the creek. Around the campfire at night, Dad told us of a remote pond connected to the main creek by a hidden stream that he found in his youth. We boys searched until we found it, and we took Dad back there to fish. Judging from the abundance of hungry bass in that pond, I don’t think anyone had been there for decades. There were no houses on Bessey Creek then, and we could spend days without seeing another human being. But around 1960 the county built a new road to extend Murphy Road across C-23 Canal. The road cut across upper Bessey Creek virtually on top of our old campsite and passed within 100 yards of the hidden pond. When I returned from the Army in 1962, I walked across a sand lot from the road to the bank of the pond and gazed at the empty bait cups and beer cans on its shore. Humpty Dumpty was off the wall.

Aerial maps suggest that Mile Lake and a few adjacent lakes in southern St. Lucie County may be ox-bows, formed as part of the North Fork but pinched off as the River meandered away. In his boyhood Dad camped and fished around Mile Lake, and he took me there many times. I don’t know if Dad knew Mile Lake had once been part of the River, but it may explain his affection for the place. He loved the River in all of its many parts, but I don’t know how he’d have felt about Mile Lake surrounded by homes and golf courses as it is now.

Ernie Lyons with Bass, possibly Mile Lake

Dad had a love/hate relationship with the St. Lucie Canal. Its discharges damaged the River downstream, and he campaigned tirelessly but futilely for the Army Corps of Engineers to manage it responsibly. Still, when many of his favorite places were gone, fishing remained good in the canal, and Dad could drive out and fish along its banks. Then, testing found some of the nation’s highest readings for pesticides and heavy metals in fish from the canal. That’s when Dad gave up fishing.

If anyone were to put up signage at Dad’s favorite places on the River, they would need lots of signs. And the signs should say “This was one of Ernest Lyons’ favorite places, a place of magic, until progress did it in. Sit quietly, look closely and try to imagine the sparkle that once was here.” If you can’t see the sparkle, it just looks like water. Or, more recently, like guacamole.

~Bill Lyons, son of Ernest Lyons

A mullet jumps at sunset, St Lucie River off of North River Shores, photo Todd Thurlow.

Biography of Bill’s father, Ernest Lyons

Florida Newspaper Hall of Fame, Ernest Lyons, 1994

Lyons began working as a reporter for The Stuart News in 1931. He also worked as an advertising salesman, printing salesman, then as advertising director for the paper. He became editor in 1945, serving until his retirement on March 1, 1975. He died April 6, 1990, at age 85.

Under Lyons the paper grew from a tiny independent weekly to a lively Scripps Howard daily. As editor, Lyons practiced community journalism at its best. He had a keen sense of what local people wanted to read and a zeal to guard their interests. Fearing that rapid population growth and urbanization might ruin coastal Florida, Lyons fought for  protection of endangered water resources and wildlife habitats.

In 1965, his newspaper columns won the nationwide Edward J. Meeman Award for conservation writing. His writings, some composed 30 or more years ago, still are quoted by conservationists because they ring with enduring concepts and timeless values.

An Incredible Flight! 1958 USGS Quads ~Everglades, Loxahatchee Slough, Allapattah Flats, and St. Johns River Marsh, by Todd Thurlow

USGS 1958 Quad Western Martin and St.Lucie, slide Todd Thurlow, Time -Capsule Flights

Today, I present, yet another incredible Time-Capsule Flight by my brother Todd Thurlow. (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/todd-thurlows-time-capsule-flights/). This flight takes us on a tour over the Everglades, the Everglades Agricultural Area,  Loxahatchee Slough,  Allapattah Flats, Ten Mile Creek, and the St Johns River Marsh, fading in and out, so one can see what the landscape/waterscape looked like in 1958 using USGA topographical maps compared to today’s Google Earth maps.

What is most striking for me, is how undeveloped, how undrained, much of the land was in 1958, not really that long ago… 61 years ago.  For reference, my husband, Ed, is 62 years young!

More than we can image has happened to South Florida since 1958…

For instance, when Todd flies by notice how little sugarcane and other crop production was taking place in the Everglades Agricultural Area just south of Lake Okeechobee compared to today. Now there are about 525,000 acres of sugarcane, back then, there appears to have been fewer than 50,000 acres of sugarcane in acreage.

Everglades National Park had been in place since 1947, but look at the difference in Whitewater Bay,  as well as Taylor and Shark River Slough; and what about Florida Bay?

The Loxahatchee Slough region, near Jupiter, in Palm Beach County? Holy moley, notice how the once magnificent slough was made smaller by development encroaching  from every direction, eventually leaving “Grassy Waters” at the southern end – as the sole water supply, via rainfall for all of West Palm Beach…

When Todd travels north over Marin, St Lucie, and the southern edge of Indian River County, perhaps the biggest shock for me endures, as I grew up in this area ~(For reference, I’m 55 years old 🙂

You’ll see that on the USGA map, southern Indian River, St Lucie, and Martin counties are shown in wavy blue as a gigantic marsh, at certain times of year, FULL of clean water!!!! Crazy! Since 1958 these lands have been drained (Ten Mile Creek) that was hydrologically connected to the marsh, through canals C-23, C-24 and C-25; and the waters of the St Johns “Stick Marsh,”( the headwaters of the St Johns River), a north flowing river, are now also drained south into the St Lucie River.  Agriculture fields and nearby highways cover those most of those stick marsh lands today.

And the central larger marsh?  “Allattah Flats,” also known as “Allpattah Marsh,” or in old military Indian war maps, “Alpatiokee Swamp? Well, the City of Port St Lucie, with over 250,000 residents, and acres of ailing greening orange groves, and more agricultural fields fill these areas today.

Just unbelievable, isn’t it?

Talk about “taking control of one’s environment. “Kind of cool, but I’d say we have really over done it, considering that now our waters, critical for life itself, are almost entirely impaired.

It is my wish that as the residents of Florida push their governments to work for cleaner water, and restore some of these lands, that we all keep in mind the history of what the lands were, working with Mother Nature, not against her.

Todd’s Time Capsule Flights are an invaluable tool in recognizing how much human determination has changed these lands, and how a modern-day determination can restore them. Please click on below and enjoy! Thank you Todd!

An Incredible Flight! 1958 USGS Quads, the Everglades, Loxahatchee Slough, Allapattah Flats, and St. Johns River Marsh, by Todd Thurlow

(https://youtu.be/m7bOEAXbOyA)

1958 USGS Quads of the Everglades, Loxahatchee Slough, Allapattah Flats, and St. Johns River Marsh

This time capsule flight overlays three 1958 USGS Quadrangle Maps of southeast Florida from Florida Bay to the St. Johns River Marsh in Indian River County. You will see the following places:
0:30 Whitewater Bay
0:39 Shark River
1:44 The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA)
2:20 Loxahatchee Slough
3:15 Allapattah Flats
3:35 Tenmile Creek
4:03 St. Johns River Marsh

Historical Topographic Map Collection legend