As you know, we are on a Road Trip. We are driving through not only to learn about the Glades, but also to learn about ourselves. Whether we realize it or not, we are all connected. We are related by history, by the drainage of the Everglades, and by a “better water future” we have no choice but to build together.
This map of the Glades is from the Florida Memory Project. It maps flood damage from two great hurricanes. Notice that the 1926 Hurricane damaged mostly the western part of the lake near Moore Haven, where as the 1928 Hurricane most intensely hit the eastern communities around Belle Glade. The towns/areas of Canal Point, Pahokee, Bacom Point, Belle Glade, South Bay, Lake Harbor, Bare Beach, Clewiston, Moore Haven and Newell all had to rebuild. “Chosen” near Belle Glade was chosen to be lost…
These past hurricanes define the history and the nature of some of the people of the Glades. The ones who “made-it” are survivors beyond anything we can possibly envision.
As Mr Lawrence E. Will an old family, a politician, and a prolific writer from the area wrote in HURRICANE:
“One word describes it. It was Hell. A raging inferno of rolling, swirling waters, of shrieking, demoniac winds, of lashing rain and of darkness, black and absolute. There were no atheists that night on the shores of Okeechobee! Then for the those still living came the second phase of hell; the phase of desolation and despair; of searching in the flooded woods and marshes, in elder clumps and sawgrass for the horrible remains of family and friends and neighbors; of loading them into trucks by unending scores; and finally of burning them in help of dozens when they could no longer be transported. It is hard to know which hell was worse…”
As we know in the 1930s the Herbert Hoover Dike was built to avoid such a disaster from happening again…but there is always the question of whether it will or not. It is dangerous to live on the low side of a dike.
As advocates of the St Luice River/Indian River Lagoon, we must be sensitive when discussing Senate President Joe Negron’s proposal for 60,000 acres to be purchased south of the lake to store, convey and move water south to the Everlgades. One can see how shouts of “Send the Water South” may send some people living south of the lake “over the edge…”
We must always make clear that when discussing Everglades resoration and improved health of the St Lucie River/Indin River Lagoon, safety, and economic prosperty for the Glades communties comes first. We know and respect their past…
Today I am going to share an adventure of engineer and St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon advocate Dr Gary Goforth. I will tie in his Lake Okeechobee experience with a few wonderful historic postcards from my mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow. Although you couldn’t get my mother on a motorcycle if you paid her, there is a common thread. The lone cypress…
“The Lone Cypress…” You may have heard of it? As we know, cypress trees live for thousands of years. There were large forest of these magnificent trees prior to their being cut down around the turn of the last century. But a few still stand. Like this one in Moore Haven.
Dr Goforth’s account of his ride around the lake is inspirational. I have done it a couple of times by car, most recently during the final session of my UF Natural Resources Leadership Institute in Clewiston. During Dr Goforth’s ride, he visits the ancient cypress tree–the one in my mom’s historic post cards. I find this really cool. I hope you do too!
“Hi Jacqui – I know you’re very busy as always – in fact more so these days I imagine. I got around to reading a recent blog of yours entitled “Taking the Emotion out of “Clewiston”-UF’s Natural Resources Leadership Institute, SLR/IRL.” I enjoyed it so much I thought I would share a trip I took on Sunday afternoon – a motorcycle ride around Lake Okeechobee.
It started out as a leisurely Sunday afternoon ride around the Martin County countryside. When I got to Port Mayaca I decided to head south for a couple of mile to the trailhead of the Lake to Ocean Trail – a 55-mile hike I’ll get around to tackling during cooler weather. When I got to the trailhead, I said what the heck – might as well circle the Lake. I’ve done the route before, and love to roll through the small towns that we are linked to primarily because of the Lake releases. Probably my favorite stretch is along the eastern shore of the Lake where the old-growth linear forests still remain – the magnificent cypress, bay, and others. My companion for the entire way around the Lake was the Herbert Hoover dike – almost always in sight off to my right along the small roads I took. Before I knew it I was passing through Sand Cut and Pahokee on my way to Belle Glade with their motto “Our Soil is our Fortune.” I thought of my Dad’s cousin Jack Fullenweider who was a general manager of the old Talisman sugar mill (bought by the State prior to construction of STA-3/4), and whose son, Jack, Jr. was a sheriff’s deputy in Belle Glade. I thought of Fritz Stein – a former District Board member from Belle Glade and all around good guy.
The traffic was light and the weather was beautiful. Before long I was riding along US 27/SR 80 with the big dike/dam to my right. The site of the 1928 breach and untold deaths. Along this stretch the ground level is the lowest of the entire lake’s perimeter; the Lake’s water level that day was a foot or two above ground level, which has subsided more than 6 feet since records began decades ago due to the drainage canals and ag practices. Around the rest of the Lake, the actual lake level is below the surrounding ground level.
Soon I was in Clewiston where the banners were hung announcing the upcoming Sugar Festival (today through Sunday). I thought of the many good folks who worry about the State purchasing US Sugar lands with the purported 12,000 people who would be out of a job – the folks that get angry at the estuary folks – and wonder who they turned their anger toward when US Sugar announced they had struck a voluntary deal to sell the land to Gov. Crist. What a missed opportunity, and to think the Legislature and Gov. didn’t go through with the deal – likely out of spite towards Gov. Crist – they didn’t want anything to do with extending his legacy. Deplorable. I put that out of my mind as I rode through Clewiston – a lovely little town.
Before long I was in Moore Haven and thought about the big history of that small town – the early Indian canal excavations, the early dredging/draining activity of Hamilton Disston connecting the big lake to the Caloosahatchee, the farming community, the devastating hurricanes and the Lone Cypress Tree which has stood as a sentinel along the Caloosahatchee Canal since the days of Disston. The Lone Cypress Tree! I have always wanted to find that tree! So I rode around till I found it along the banks of the river/canal. It was beginning to send out the bright green needles and was remarkable in its majesty!
A few more miles on US 27 and I turned north onto SR 78 – a pleasant ride along the west side of the Lake. Pretty soon the road drops onto the floodplain of Fisheating Creek – the only unregulated tributary feeding Lake Okeechobee. I was reminded how the flows into the Lake from Fisheating Creek increased 6-fold this dry season compared to last year. All along the west side of the Lake are small mobile home and RV communities enjoying the good life!
Before long I crossed the Kissimmee River and was into the south side of Okeechobee. White pelicans ushered me along the road lined with hotels filled with seasonal fishermen and women. On around the lake and passing J&R Fish camp – busy with Sunday afternoon bikers. Many days I’ve enjoyed the free hot dogs and music. Before long I passed alongside of the FP&L cooling reservoir – site of the levee failure that occurred just before midnight in October 30, 1979.
Then I crested the bridge over the C-44 Canal with Port Mayaca off to the right. The calm water belied the massive and destructive discharges that were occurring, sending tons of sediment, algae and nutrients on their way to the troubled St. Lucie River and Estuary.
A quick turn back to the east onto SR 76, past DuPuis (my favorite public land to hike), past the sod and cane fields where once there was citrus and before long I parked the bike in the garage – it was a good ride.
The attached photo of me on the motorcycle was taken on a post card perfect day in 2009 at Port Mayaca – the wind was calm, the Lake was still and the air was so clear you could see all the way across to Moore Have, some 30 miles to the southwest! I love how the water and sky blend together on the horizon.
After reading Gary’s account I kept thinking about that lone cypress standing like a sentinel as all has changed around it… I wrote my mother to see what she had in her history files. She sent the following four postcards from her historic collection:
We should all go ride and see it and make post cards or Facebook posts of our own!