Tag Archives: Loxahatchee Slough

Mapping the Wild and Scenic Loxahatchee

Loxahatchee Lesson 1 

Loxahatchee Lesson 2

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love maps! Today I opened a map entitled “Physical, Hydrological, & Biological Characteristics of the Loxahatchee River Estuary, Florida, U.S Geological Survey,” that may not have been unfolded since the year I graduated from Martin County High School in 1982.

In June of 2020, my mother and her dear friend Nicki van Vonno, shared with me documents belonging to Nicki’s late husband, Frederik W. van Vonno. In 1979, as a student, “Fred” wrote a paper that he presented to his Georgia Institute of Technology professor,  entitled: “Environmental Considerations in Wild and Scenic River Studies.”

As we know,  the Loxahatchee River was designated a federal Wild and Scenic River shortly thereafter, in the momentous year of 1985. It was Florida’s first!

So this map is part of the history of the Loxahatchee becoming a Wild and Scenic River. There is a lot to talk about in Mr van Vonno’s documents, but I want to begin with this map. It will be our guide over the coming days. There are sections listed: Introductions, Purpose and Scope, Methods, History, Physical and Hydrologic Characteristics; Sediment; and Summary and Concluding Remarks -by Benjamin McPherson, Maryann Sabanskas,  and William Long -all of the Department of the Interior’s Geological Survey. You can peruse all of these sections  if you click on map below.

For purposes of time, and our goal to learn beginnings today, I will focus only on the historical building and demise of this great river, Loxahatchee.

History of the Estuary from map

The Loxahatchee River estuary owes its existence to a rise in sea level and an increase in rainfall. About 15,000 years ago, the shore of the Atlantic Ocean was several miles east of more than 300 feet lower than its present location and altitude at Jupiter Inlet. The climate was windy, cool, and dry. From about 15,000 to 6,000 years ago, sea level rose relatively rapidly at a rate of more than 3 feet per century. Near the end of this period, modern vegetation and climate became established and the rise in sea level slowed. Sometime near the end of the rapid rise in sea level and several thousand years ago, tidal waters began to flood the estuary embayment. Prior to this time, the embayment was  probably a flood plain or a freshwater marsh. From the time of the first tidal flooding to about 1900, the shape and bathymetry of the estuary were modified solely by natural processes of sedimentation and erosion…

The rest I will paraphrase:

In 1900 came the “progress” of man bringing with it two big shifts: 1. the dredging and permanence of the Jupiter Inlet which allowed much more salt water into the delicate estuary,  and a familiar foe, over-drainage – Ground water levels were lowered and fresh water inflows reduced.

The once fresh water inputs going into the Southwestern Fork (far left/down) from Hungryland Slough and the Loxahatchee Marsh -part of Loxahatchee Slough we talked about in Loxahatchee Lesson 1- were tamed by  the huge C-18 canal. The Everglades connection severed.

The Northwest Fork’s water (middle) was reduced due to development of the Central and South Florida Plan, all of the giant historic canals that are managed today by the South Florida Water Management District. Creeks Kitching and Cypress remain, but are anemic. A portion of this Northwest Fork -from  Riverbend Park to Dickinson State Park is the area that was deemed “Wild and Scenic” in 1985. In spite of this status, cypress trees have been replaced by mangroves due to less fresh water input and more salt water input. 

The North Fork (far right) is surrounded by development but a small portion looks untouched in its upper region. 

All things life changing begin with a dream. My writings will follow Fred van Vonno’s dream. 

The Loxahatchee is one of thousands of United States rivers that have been negatively transformed by agriculture and development; but, the Loxahatchee has more hope than most. In future blog posts we will explore this studying the Wild and Scenic designation and how this “dream come true” is not over yet. 

DOI Archives: 

Click to access 0001pt01.pdf

The Once Incredibly Long Reach of the Loxahatchee…

Excerpt Loxahatchee, 1839 Map of the Seat of War, Florida, Gen. Zachary Taylor
Page 48, Landscapes and Hydrology of the Predrainage Everglades, McVoy 2011

“The Loxahatchee River,” Seminole for “River of Turtles.” What a beautiful name. A name, a river, I really know very little about…

Let’s learn…

First, we must note that that today’s Loxahatchee River, located just south of Stuart, is the antithesis of the St Lucie River. Whereas the St Lucie’s watershed has been immensely expanded, the Loxahatchee has been amputated. 

Over the next few days, I will be sharing about the Loxahatchee, a river that partially lies in Martin County. However the majority of this once great river lies in Palm Beach County, home to over 1.2 million people! 

Let’s go back….

First, we have to think about where the Loxahatchee originally flowed, before drainage. The Loxahatchee’s story is an incredible one as the Loxahatchee was connected to the Everglades.

Look at the image below from Landscapes and Hydrology of the Predrainage Everglades, McVoy. Note the red drawn outline that represents the natural edge of the Everglades. Now look at the “arm,” the red formation in the upper right hand side of the image. This is what is called the Loxahatchee Slough, now gone, but today its remnant is Grassy Waters. This gigantic slough was indeed connected to the Everglades and in high water times the flow from the Everglades rose to swell inside the Loxahatchee Slough feeding the Loxahatchee River. Incredible! Today this gone. It, like everything else in South Florida has been channelized, drained, for agriculture and development. We drive over these now dry lands thinking this is the natural state. It is not, these lands were once a mosaic of the Everglades, our River of Grass.

Excerpt: SFWMD Facilities Map

So think about this for a moment.

The Loxahatchee  River “ran” from the coast, near Jupiter, to the Everglades. The river has been minimized, the slough is compartmentalized, but one remaining piece of this Loxahatchee Reach to the Everglades still alive is today’s Aurthur R. Marshal Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

This important refuge is easy to recognize as it is the “top oval,” in the images.

It is considered” the last northernmost portion of the unique Everglades. With over 221 square miles of habitat, the Loxahatchee Refuge is home to the American alligator and critically endangered Everglades snail kite. In any given year, as many as 257 specie son birds may use the Refuge’s diverse wetland habitats.”

These lands/waters are owned by the state through the South Florida Water Management District but are managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife. You will find the most intact remaining tree islands here. Deer and other wildlife live on these tree islands and sometimes in the early morning as the sun rises, the deer stand on the levee while bicyclists go by!

To the South Florida Water Management District the refuge is known and functions as Water Conservation Area 1, just west of Parkland, Florida. 

When I drive south on Highway 95 from Stuart to the South Florida Water Management District, I often wonder what these lands will look like one hundred years from now. Quite a thought isn’t it? What do you think? Who knows what will happen; but let’s continue to get to know the Loxahatchee! 

Southern Path to the Loxahatchee River: Time Capsule Flight, Todd Thurlow: (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/history-of-the-loxahatchee-river/)

 

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