In the fall of 2011, the River Kidz were born. A grassroots youth uprising due to Lake Okeechobee discharges hurting St Lucie River wildlife and the power of social media that was in its infancy. A mixture of over one-hundred children, parents, and politicians came to the original River Kidz gathering and fundraiser at Sewall’s Point Park. A ten year old and an eleven year old had just changed the trajectory of their lives, and the river found a voice in a new generation.
Now it’s ten years later…
~Full disclosure, Evie Flaugh is my niece, the daughter of my younger sister Jenny and her husband Mike. Evie is the only child I have seen born into this world and it is heartwarming to watch her mature.
Recently, while I was Adrift on the St Johns River, Evie released her Capstone Project 2021 for Rollins College staring first and foremost the Everglades, along with interviews with Dr Leslie Poole, me, Maggy Hurchalla, Eve Samples, Mark Perry, and Nic Mader. The product is impressive and very professional. So proud of my River Kid! BTW Evie won “best” class! I’m allowed to brag; I’m her Aunt 🙂
Evie’s fourteen minute video “Send it South” is posted below on YouTube. Please watch. Please share. Please comment. My plan is to do a series of post about our grown up River Kidz.
-Evie Flaugh (11) and Naia Mader (10), September 17, 2011 co-founders of River Kidz, Sewall’s Point Park, 1st official event. Photo JTL-Evie 2021. Born and raised in Stuart, Evie co-founded River Kidz with Naia Mader in 2011. She remains passionate about activism and fighting for the environment. She recently graduated from Rollins College with a degree in Critical Media & Cultural Studies and is currently in her first year at the Crummer Graduate School of Business, on track to receive her MBA in May 2023. The “Send It South” documentary was her senior capstone last May. (Taken from Evie’s interview on WFLM with Robert Delancy, September 30, 2021; photo Evie’s Facebook page)
“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.”
Today, May 12th, at 9:45 A.M. Governor Rick Scott is scheduled to sign Senate President Joe Negron’s “Senate Bill 10” in of all places Clewiston. Clewiston is “America’s Sweetest Town” and the headquarters of U.S. Sugar Corporation…
According to the article in the Glades County Democrat announcing the signing: “Earlier this week Senate Bill 10, a move to secure funding for a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee was approved. In its amended form, Senate Bill 10 became a measure that we in the Glades could stand behind. The bill no longer stated that additional farmlands be taken out of production but rather the state would utilize the property that it already owns to create a reservoir with a much smaller footprint.”
Although I am scratching my head, you know what? Sometimes you just have to be happy for what you get, no matter where you get it. I am tremendously thankful to Governor Scott for signing the bill ~ although I do wish he had decided to sign it in Martin County since we’ve worked so hard to get it.
When I read the announcement officially last night, it got me thinking about Clewiston before I went to sleep. It brought back memories of 2013 and famed paddle boarder Justin Riney’s idea to hold the Sugarland Rally in Clewiston on September 1st, 2013 to unite the movement. This was one of the early rallies for the river during the devastation of the “Lost Summer.”
Since Governor Scott is going to sign in Clewiston I think it’s a good time to walk down memory lane and be proud of how far we’ve come and to get ready for how far we have to go! The point of the location of the Sugarland Rally was to “meet halfway.” Hopefully Governor Scott is thinking the same, in that Joe Negron helped us meet half way and we are all thankful.
Now let’s remember the past, enjoy today, and then take it to the finish line!
“The Sugarland Rally will unite the east and west coasts of Florida in a peaceful, historic demonstration to speak out against the pollution of our estuaries from Lake Okeechobee discharges. We support both immediate and long-term solutions, but ecosystems and communities along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries are in crisis. We cannot afford to wait for ecological and economic collapse. We urge all stakeholders–especially local, state and federal governments–to act immediately. We chose Clewiston as a central location to unify east and west at Lake Okeechobee, the source that is polluting our estuaries, and because we believe Florida’s sugar industry can be part of the solution. Please don’t misinterpret our intentions–we are NOT holding a rally at Clewiston to protest or point fingers at “Big Sugar.” It’s quite the opposite, actually. We invite Florida’s powerful sugar industry to join us in crafting an immediate solution to the ecological and economic crisis caused by discharges from Lake Okeechobee.” (Press release from Justin Riney, Aug. 2013)
Question posed to River Kid: “So do you think you’ll become a politician?”
“Ummm..no…but I think I’ll be a better public speaker….:)”
This blog post is a follow-up to yesterday’s: “Tallahassee or Bust! River Kidz and the Clean Water Rally, Tallahassee, 2015.”
Yesterday, River Mom, Nic Mader, dropped off Naia, Olivia, Keile and I in front of the state capitol building for the Clean Water/Amendment 1 Rally…The sounds of speakers and music filled the air; the bright colors and black skeletons of Janeen Mason’s Solidarity Fish project could be seen in the distance….(http://www.solidarityarts.com); various members of the RIVER WARRIORS, and others, came up to say “hello;” it was a cool, bright, sunny day and a sense of history exuded from every giant oak tree draped with spanish moss….
“Girls stop.” I said.
Naia, 14, Olivia, 13, and Keile, 10 turned around and looked at me inquisitively.
“River Kidz, I want you to look around you for a minute. I want to share something with you that you may not think too much about… “THIS is part of the First Amendment, of the United States of America: “the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government”…not all countries of the world allow this. My friend Aletha Jones teaching in China in 1989 when their government brought tanks into Tiananmen Square opening fire. Our country and our form of government, have many failures…but our “right to assemble” is key to what is “good” in our democracy….Participate today and know, you too, are a part of this great history of our country ….”
The rally was a message to the governor and the legislature to spend those monies as is intended within the language of the bill. For those of us coming from the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon Region, this means spending some of this money to purchase option lands south of Lake Okeechobee to store, clean and convey water south to the Everglades, in time, saving the dying estuaries of St Lucie/IRL and Caloosahatchee rivers.
Before the capitol and on its stairs, were people from all over the state; we even saw Dr Bob Knight, a legend in the springs movement. Most of Florida’s springs have been equally deviated by poor “water” decisions by state, federal and local governments.
It was a whirlwind of a day. The River Kidz were able speak at the rally; write short speeches, and to present them before Representative Larry Lee, Senator Joe Negron, and then, again, at the Senate Natural Resources Committee. They passed out their new River Kidz Second Edition Workbook, “Marty the Manatee” inspired by Mr Marty Baum, the Treasure Coast Indian Riverkeeper.
It was a good day.
Did we feel “warm and fuzzy feedback” regarding our request for option land purchase in the Everglades Agriculture Area (EAA) south of Lake Okeechobee?
Did I hear such things as “Steve Crisafulli, the House Speaker may want to be the Commissioner of Agriculture, and Adam Putnam does want to be governor.”….”agriculture/sugar does not want to sell the land now”—“and believe you me they are 20 years ahead the rest of you investing millions, if not billions of dollars, on a state and national level—–to influence politicians”…..”but its not all doom and gloom—things are moving”—–“and the subsiding EAA lands”—-“oh yes, and the future of Cuba,” “you never know—- maybe”…..”it’s changing so fast…”the advocacy along the Treasure Coast is noticed and making a difference…”
YES. I did hear such things….
🙂 (I will never reveal my sources but I can tell you I have good ones and spoke to many people…..)
Did we, the River Kidz: did I Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, and River Mom , Nichole Mader find “this” discouraging?
“Yes, and No.”
Yes, because coming up against any wall is never fun when one is looking to go forward…
Nonetheless, I also know, and have been told, all this pushing IS having effect. I also know it may push the “powers that be” faster into what-ever-it-is that breaks this wall of historical government/agriculture “self-interest,” because water and the flood gates of the people will in time bring it down.
Of that I am certain.
Thank you River Kidz! Thank you all! For securing a better water future!