Recently, in response to Senate President Joe Negron’s proposal to purchase 60,000 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee, a movement began called #GladesLivesMatter. This group is concerned for the future of their communities due to the intensifying coastal cry: “Send the water south!”
Tension or misunderstanding between the Glades and the Coastal Communities is not a new theme. As we’ll learn, with creativity and determination it has been overcome before. Maybe we can learn something from the past and try to achieve this too?
In 1917, the year the West Palm Beach Canal was constructed and roads were first available from the coast to the Glades, Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce president, T.J. Campbell wrote a Post article urging his readers to “take a growing interest in the people who live in rural communities, and make their living from the products of the soil.”
According to Palm Beach County historian James D. Snyder, Campbell’s article was unintentionally patronizing in that, “it chastised the urbanite for too often viewing the ruralists with feelings not unmixed with contempt or at least a certain pride of superiority.”
After some ruffled feathers, deliberation, and discussion it was decided that Campbell was making a point and that both sides needed each other, and both sides misunderstood the other.
So with the new transportation routes a motorcade (road trip) was organized to Belle Glade. It was a success and the coastal residents were amazed. To show good will, in the months following, the American Legion of the Glades traveled to the coast and marched in the 1921 Palm Beach County parade. They performed a song-poem as the “Muck Rats” and were the hit of the parade!
I’m from old Lake Okeechobee,
Where they raise gators,
Beans and pertaters,
Catfish and termites and Prohibition haters,
Custard apple, moon vine,
Catfish and moonshine,
All the time!
Even if the main thing in common was that many of the Coastal and Glades residents were “Prohibition haters,” of which we’ll learn about tomorrow, this effort of goodwill bettered relationships. And in the end, both sides made the effort. Why not take a drive? A road trip? You just might be amazed… 🙂
My “Road Trip to the Glades” series is meant to be an experience of exploration. Exploration into a world many of us from the Coast have not seen. It is my hope that through learning about the Glades communities we can forge insights and hopefully friendships that assist us in our journey for a solution to Lake O’s discharges, Senate President Elect Joe Negron’s land purchase proposal for 2017, and a restored Everglades including a healthy St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
At this point, as river advocates, we must make clear that we wish to attain these things, not at the expense of the communities of Lake Okeechobee. The best way to begin this conversation is to educate and visit there ourselves, because yes, #GladesLivesMatter.
We begin first our journey driving west from Stuart on Kanner Highway, named for Judge A.O. Kanner. “A.O.” had an accomplished legal and legislative career, and in 1925 was chosen to move to Martin County by longtime friend and colleague, Governor Martin, to get newly founded Martin County “off to a good start.” A note of interest is that “Abram” and his wife Mary were one of Martin County’s few Jewish families. At the time, Jews were not allowed to buy in certain subdivisions. But thankfully Kanner was embraced by the Martin County community, and became one of its most respected citizens. He lived in Stuart until his death in 1967. As a legislator, Kanner fought for roads. State Road 76, was the result of his effort to get good roads to the Glades. It is on his legacy that we will drive forward.
Driving west about twenty miles outside of Stuart, we pass Indiantown. We see train tracks, agricultural fields, and wonderful open natural lands such as DuPuis Wildlife Area. All the while the C-44 canal is to our right. An eagle flies overhead. The blue and white clouded sky seems bigger here.
Just a few miles before reaching the Lake we see the looming Port Mayaca Cemetery. In this cemetery are buried in a mass grave 1600 of the 3000 dead from the horrific 1928 Hurricane. A stark reminder of the past, the power of Mother Nature, and how we live dangerously so in a drained swamp. There are graves of others not associated with the hurricane too. Old families. People whose blood and sweat laid the ground for South Florida’s development. Many of the family plots go back to the 1800s.
Getting back into the car and back on Kanner Highway, we drive past sod farms and sugarcane fields. King Ranch has a sign with their brand atop. After about 10 minutes, slowly and with caution we approach Port Mayaca. It is impossible to see Lake Okeechobee herself as a gigantic berm and structure surround her. We do see the ACOE’s S-308, the structure that allows water to enter the C-44 from Lake Okeechobee that eventually flows and destroys the St Lucie River. Strangely, we notice an “advisory” blue-green algae sign prominently displayed while at least four people are fishing in the canal. Pulling onto the once famous toll road of Connors Highway and going south, we see the berm of Lake Okeechobee. We leave Martin and enter Palm Beach County. Large trucks fill the road. It is nerve-wracking but exciting. Some beautiful old homes stand amoungst thickets of royal palms and tropical vegetation. Roses and honey are for sale if one has the nerve to pull over.
After about twelve miles we reach Canal Point. Canal Point is not incorporated, but part of Palm Beach County. At this location is S-352 built in 1917, today’s SFWMD’s structure allowing water into the West Palm Beach Canal, Water Conservation Area 1, as well as being used for irrigation.
We take a sharp turn into the Canal Point Recreation Area praying not to get rear ended. Here we can drive on top of the dike and take a look at Lake Okeechobee and across the street. Fishermen fish near the structure. An alligator waits nearby. It’s nice to see some wildlife.
A beautiful Baptist church stands among tidy homes. A U.S.Department of Agriculture Research Service Sugarcane Station also sits along the Connor Highway that hugs the lake not too far from S-352.
Canal Point has about 525 people and the town is very small located between Lake Okeechobee and sugarcane fields. From what we can see there is also a post office, one elementary school, and a store. Larger, Pahokee is just a few miles away.
This little town has a rich and important history. In the coming days we will learn about Canal Point’s mark on the Northern Everglades of which we are part.