-North Fork of St Lucie River surrounded by by development, Port St Lucie, Florida. Distinctive oxbows lie south of Prima Vista Blvd. Aerial photo by Ed Lippisch September 16, 12.15pm.
The above aerial of the North Fork of the St Lucie River is the second in my recent series entitled: “A Different View,” as Ed and I feature areas of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon other than the Sailfish Flats and Sandbar between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island.
For me, today’s is a powerful visual. Though it shows the remaining serpentine beauty of the North Fork of the St Lucie River one can easily see how the river, remaining natural lands, seagrasses, and fish and wildlife -close by and downstream- are impacted by human activity from the surrounding houses, roads, bridges, and highways.
Just think of all the people living in this sea of development surrounding the winding waterway. Imagine if the people were thoughtlessly putting fertilizer and pesticides onto their lawns -that runoff in turn draining into the river- or perhaps their home located right inside the river’s watershed has an old, leaking, septic tank. Envision all the oily/dirty runoff from the surrounding roads and highways flowing down into the waters after a hard, long rain like we’ve had this week.
An image such as this makes it intensely clear and can be applied anywhere as a learning tool in the St Lucie River region: It is ridiculous not to change and modernize our ways if we truly desire the health and recovery of our waterways. All of us!
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.
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
-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
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.
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.” (
(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. (
All the while the city of Port St Lucie grew and grew…
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. (
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.