Although I first took this photo on January 21, 2021 to document the layer of smoke hovering at the horizon due to the burning sugarcane fields, I later noticed the clear aerial composition of the Green Ridge. Thus I share today…
Looking even briefly at the photograph, you will notice that this ridge is scraped flat by agriculture fields and 1-95 swinging over it – to take advantage of the high 30-35 foot topography.
So what is the Green Ridge and why is it important to the St Lucie River?
The Green Ridge guided waters south as they traveled slowly through the marshy Eastern Flatlands being deepest closest to the Orlando Ridge, Allapattah Flats. (For reference, today Indiantown lies in the southern portion of the Orlando Ridge.)
When the St Lucie Canal, (C-44) was cut ca. 1914-1923 and then deepened, widened, and “improved” many times since, it caused the waters moving southeast to shoot down into the St Lucie. Today, due to agriculture and development, these water are polluted and basically unfiltered and have been allowed to be so for many, many years.
And when Lake Okeechobee is opened into the St Lucie Canal…we all know what happens then. Complete destruction from a water source, Lake Okeechobee, that also was never connected to the St Lucie!
For years I tried to understand the Green Ridge, and it’s importance, now I think I do. In restoring our waters it is helpful to be able to envision how Nature functioned before humans altered the landscape to the point that she is almost unrecognizable.
-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.
Below: portion of “old” Florida map- one can see the former extent and connection of Allapattah Flats running along the inner east coast that the C-44 /St Lucie Canal from Lake Okeechobee to South Fork of St Lucie dissects. Shared by Todd Thurlow.
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.”
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
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.”
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!
Link to short video journey showing the former swamp “Alpatiokee” juxtaposed to today’s agriculture and development– Post St Lucie and western Martin County,
The first map in the video is a 1823 U.S. Army Map showing “Al-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp,” as it was known. The second is a 1846 map by Bruff. We then fly in to view Green Ridge, and the ridge just east of Indiantown. Next, we then overlay the 1983 Topo maps to view Green Ridge again, fly up, and around, Ten-mile Creek, and then back down the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. —-Todd Thurlow
Not only was the city of Port St Lucie a swamp, but western Martin County was too. Please view the above video and “see” for yourself! It must have been a fabulous place, now long gone, know as “Alpatiokee,” or “Halpatiokee Swamp.”
Meaning “alligator waters” by the Seminoles, these lands/waterways were traversed for centuries in hand-made canoes. The native people and the Seminoles traveled many miles through the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and during rainy season they could travel all the way up into the St Johns River. How? Because these lands, when flooded, were “connected.” Now they are not only no longer connected but water that flowed north into the St John’s flows south into the St Lucie River….
Back to Port St Lucie…..
Recently, I kept noticing that the 1856 “Everglades” Military Map I like so much showed an expansive swamp close to where Port St Lucie and western Martin County are located today.
“This is weird,” I thought. “What happened to the old swamp?”
So, I contacted my brother, Todd, who loves maps and can combine them together with technology. (See link/video above.)
Below you’ll find an edited version of Todd’s notes to me.
I find all of this absolutely fascinating, and sometimes a bit unsettling….The natural ridges in the land we seem to ignore; how we blew canals through them; how the water USED to flow; how humans have developed and built agricultural empires, and changed everything….Maybe one day with visual tools like these, future land planners, and water district employees can change back some of our landscape to it’s former glory, and maybe even return a few gators to the landscape, since it’s named after them.
That would be nice, something more to look at while driving the Turnpike than “concrete.” 🙂
TODD’S NOTES REGARDING VIDEO:
THE OLD MAPS: The old maps are not necessarily accurate, but they give an idea… They show basically what was known as the “Hal-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp.” On some other maps it is labeled the “Al-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp.” On almost all old maps, it would cover the area that is labeled Allapattah Flats on the modern topographical maps — but Hal-pa-ti-o-kee was probably more to the east.
TOPOGRAPHY AND RIDGES: There are two distinct ridges in western Martin County. Green Ridge is about 4.6 miles west of the turnpike, (12.5 miles west of the ocean), and can be seen on aerials. The western edge of Allapattah flats is a ridge where the elevation goes quickly from about 30 fee to 40 feet. This ridge (an obvious ancient ocean shoreline) can be seen running all the way to Cape Canaveral parallel to the coast. This ridge is about 12.5 miles west of the turnpike (20 miles from the ocean). Indiantown sits on the high side of the ridge. This Hal-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp on those old maps would be the we area east of the Indiantown ridge – so it is basically all of western Martin and St. Lucie County.
FORMER WATER FLOW: Probably everything east of the Green Ridge flowed east into the St. Lucie. Everything between the two ridges flowed north to the St. Johns watershed and everything West of the Indiantown ridge (not much) flowed west into Lake Okeechobee via the little creeks on the east bank of the
….Somewhere between the St. Johns and the St. Lucie so everything between the two ridges, but north of that point, went north to the St. Johns River. Everything south would have gotten picked up by Ten-mile creek in the extreme North Fork of the St. Lucie River, which actually flowed north-east before turning back south to the St. Lucie.
CONCLUSION: There are academics that would know this stuff for sure and all the proper names. These ridges are like little continental divides, separating water flows into separate directions like the Rocky Mountains. When they busted all these canals through the ridges they changed the direction of all the water flows from mostly north/south to east/west. But that was the goal — get it to sea level as quickly as possible and drain the swamps…