Tag Archives: North Fork St Lucie River

Africa’s North Fork of the St Lucie

I felt like I was in Africa…

It’s strange to find perhaps the most untouched part of the St Lucie River in the heart of Florida’s eighth largest city, Port St Lucie. In fact a full trip up the North Fork goes all the way to Ft Pierce. Although many of the trickling branches once running to the river have been developed, some have not, and the immediate area around the oxbows was left wild. 

Poor water quality from agriculture and development’s runoff plague this 1972 designated Aquatic Preserve but nonetheless it is an incredible relic! Today I share phots and videos of this remarkable place. The photos of mangroves and sable palms look a bit flat and repetitive, but the videos really reveal the dimension of the experience. 

Port St. Lucie 1967, mouth of North Fork looking  from south, St Lucie River- Photographer,  Aurthur Ruhnke, Thurlow Archives, Sandra Henderson Thurlow

Ed and I took put the Maverick in at Leighton Park in Palm City. Other than screaming a few times when gigantic wakes almost enveloped us, it was a great trip- a trip I have not taken in many, many years.

This excerpt from  the 1984 Aquatic Preserve Management Plan notes that the North Fork was straightened and channelized by the U.S. Army during World War II, nonetheless much of the fork has the wonderful oxbows as you can see from my phone’s screenshot below. These oxbows are an incredible thing to see and definitely give one the feel of someplace wild and exotic like Africa. Like Florida was not too many years ago…

“Water is the one resource whose characteristics most directly affect this

             estuary’s habitability and healthiness for the plants and animals naturally

             adapted to living there. The drainage basin of the entire St. Lucie River has

             been modified by agricultural drainage and residential development. The North-

             Fork-St. Lucie River receives the outfall of two major drainage canals (C-23

             and C-24) and many other drainage sources in the upper headwaters. The

             freshwater flow from the St. Lucie Canal on the South Fork may also affect the

             North Fork indirectly. The uplands surrounding the preserve area are also

             modified by the extensive Port St. Lucie residential development and the other

             residential developments along the river. The North Fork was also modified by

             the U. S. Army during World War II. Those modifications involved the

             straightening and channelization of the upper section of the river

             (Environmental Quality Laboratory, 1980). The result of all of these

             modifications to the river and its basin is that rainfall that may have taken

             months to get to the river by natural drainage now takes only hours. The

             river that once meandered through a broad floodplain now flows down a deep

channel.” -1969 Internal Improvement Fund via 1984 N.F.A.P.M.P. 

Photos North Fork, St Lucie River January 3, 2021

-Pond Apple 

-My favorite photo! A turtle sunning itself! 

Videos St Lucie North Fork Oxbows

List of Birds/Wildlife/Plants seen 1-3-21 SLR and North Fork

Seagull
Great Egret
5 ibis
Little Blue Heron
Blue Heron (young) 
Pair ospreys
2 Little Blue Herons
Turkey vulture
Floating flock of seagulls
Floating flock of pelicans
Cormorant
Kingfisher-N. Fork
Turtle
Little Blue Heron
7 mullet jumping- Mud Cove
Little Blue Heron and ibis 
Little Blue
Pond Apple 
Frilly fern?
Leather fern
Saw palmetto
Seagulls hunting  S. of PC Bridge
 

 

 

The City of Port St Lucie, a city along a dying “Aquatic Preserve” of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Aerial of what was to become the City of Port St Lucie, 1957. (Photo Ruhnke/Thurlow collection, courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
Aerial of what was to become the City of Port St Lucie along the North Fork of the St Lucie River, 1957. (Photo Ruhnke/Thurlow collection, courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

Wow, look at this!  A 1957 aerial photograph of the beautiful North Fork of the St Lucie River and its surrounding virgin lands that would incorporate as the City of Port St Lucie in 1961.

This Aia Indian and Seminole wilderness became spotted with many ranch lands but there was foresight for “protections” for some areas as it was beloved by hunters and fisherman and “just people” that wanted to protect its resources. It was full of wildlife on land and in its waters, which had been considered the best mostly “fresh water” fishing in the area for decades.

Preserve sign in the the area of Pruitt's Fish Camp, near today's Club Med.
Preserve sign in the the area of Pruitt’s Fish Camp, near today’s Club Med, ca. 1960s. (Photos courtesy of  Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

In 1972 local, federal and state agencies led by the Florida Department of Natural Resources cooperated to declare the North Fork of the St Lucie River an “Aquatic Preserve.” And in 1984 the Department of Natural Resource, which merged into today’s Department of Environmental Protection, created a management plan for the area. The plan states:

“The preserve is one of the last remaining freshwater/estuarine wilderness areas in this region of Florida. The major objectives of the aquatic preserve management program are to manage the preserve to ensure maintenance of essentially natural conditions, and to restore and enhance those conditions which are not in a natural condition. Management will also be directed to ensure public recreational opportunities while assuring the continued propagation of fish and wildlife.” (

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CZIC-qh90-75-f6-g57-1984/html/CZIC-qh90-75-f6-g57-1984.htm

)

(NOTE: The Florida Department of Environmental Protection removed these links from public view in 2016. When I called they said the links were being archived. JTL)

I don’t know why really, but this plan was not implemented and unfortunately the area of the North Fork’s headwater’s at Five and Ten Mile Creek were contaminated by agricultural pesticides in 1995 in a formal document by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. (

Click to access tenmile_creek.pdf

) In 2002 the St Lucie River including parts and beyond the “aquatic preserve” was designated an “impaired water body” by the same agency  in 2002. (

Click to access SLE_Impairment_Narrative_ver_3.7.pdf

)

All the while the city of Port St Lucie grew and grew…

Growth of City of City along Port St Lucie
Growth of PSL along North Fork of  St Lucie River, 1969 to 2000, from the book, Port St Lucie at 50, A City for all People, by Nina Baranski. photo

According to the US census there were 330 residents in 1970 and 88,769 in 2000. In 2012 there were over 250,000 residents. 

Over the years, the city and agencies did not pay attention to  how developers and people developed their homes along the river, and many were developed go right up the the shoreline of the Aquatic Preserve as this photo by the FDEP shows. This is how fertilizers and pesticieds run right into the water. Not smart.  (

http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/northfork/description/surroundings.htm

)

NF_grass1

 

The State of Florida projects that the City of Port St Lucie is to have have 400,000 residents by 2025. Presently with over 250,000 residents, they are the state of Florida’s ninth largest city.

As odd as it sounds, this population may be a key to turning things around for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Our Treasure Coast area never had enough votes to get much attention until recently and some of the St Lucie city and county commissioners are some of the most vocal in the the Save the Indian River Lagoon movement.

Why the state and federal and local agencies allowed the degradation of lands they spent an enormous amount of time protecting is pathetic. As usual there is only one hope for change, the people pushing government to save what’s left and find ways to let the estuary recover, may be the only answer to saving the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.