Tag Archives: north fork

Ernie Lyons’ St Lucie Places of Magic, by Bill Lyons

The creative seed for this blog post dates back to 2011. On November 1st in 2011, my mother forwarded Bill Lyons, son of famed Stuart News conservationist and newspaperman, Ernest Lyons, an email that had been sent to me by Mrs. Sheri Anker of the St Lucie County Conservation Alliance. Sheri had come up with an idea to erect a series of signs throughout the St Lucie River highlighting the favorite spots that “Ernie” so passionately and lovingly wrote about throughout his career.

The following essay is Ernie’s son Bill’s response to my mother’s inquiry for guidance on creating a historic Ernie Lyons’ St Lucie River tour, as Sheri envisioned: “Travels with Ernie on his Rio de Luz.”

Bill’s reply was insightful, poetic, and bittersweet. Bill updated the piece in 2014 -after reading about the St Lucie’s “Lost Summer” of 2013, the tipping point causing a tsunami river movement resurgence that even from the grave, through republished essays in the Stuart News, was inspired by the spirit of Ernie Lyons. Recently my mother rediscovered Bill’s essay in her files and now seems like a good time to rethink the sign idea.

It is my wish that after we read Bill’s tribute to his father, we follow through on Sheri’s idea for signage along the St Lucie River. Indeed, it is difficult to mark what is “favorite” when you love it all, but one thing is certain, we must ensure that our beloved river and the spirit of Mr. Ernest Lyons continues so that “progress” in the future won’t mean a bulldozer.

 

Favorite Places on the River, by Bill Lyons

Ernest Lyons, my father, first came to Stuart, Florida in 1913 and lived there for most of his life. He worked at the Stuart News for 40-some years, retiring as editor in 1975. Dad loved to fish and above all he loved the St. Lucie River, an affection evident in his writings. A few years ago an admirer of that writing suggested erecting signage at Dad’s favorite places on the River. This is my response.

Ernie Lyons as a boy

Dad’s favorite places changed with the moods of the River. For instance, I’m fairly sure North Fork Bay wasn’t his favorite place the day he couldn’t find shelter there from what he called a Blue Norther. He had gathered my mother, my sister and me in his boat and set off up the River to look at a piece of land. It rained and blew all the way up the River, abated for a while as he walked over the property, and then poured buckets all the way back to Stuart. Dad never owned a boat with a cabin or a cover, and I don’t recall that Mother ever got into one of his boats again.

Classic Ernie Lyons as a newspaperman, Stuart News

Dad really did love the North Fork, though. Willard Kiplinger commissioned Florida artist Beanie Backus to do a painting for Dad – “Just contact Beanie and tell him what you want” — so Dad requested a view from the shore where the narrow North Fork opens out into North Fork Bay. Beanie took a boat out there, sketched the scene, and the finished painting hangs in our home today. Many times in the nineteen forties and early fifties, Dad drove us to Burt Pruitt’s Fish Camp, rented a skiff, and motored down to where two branches of the North Fork converge. The River then was alive with fish and birds and alligators, but by the late fifties, it was gone. Drainage from the Rim Ditch Canal (C-24) did so much damage to that part of the River that it lost its sparkle. I don’t think Dad ever went back to the North Fork; after that, he just lived with the memories.

Bean Backus, “The narrow North Fork opening out into North Fork Bay.”

When Dad wrote about festoons of asters along the banks and sprays of orchids hanging from oaks over the River, he was thinking of the South Fork in summer. He took me there many times and we caught lots of fish, but the magical memories are of the flowers and of the tarpon and manatees that came rolling by while we sat quietly watching. During summer, sheet-flow from the Allapattah Flats converged in tiny rivulets into a deep pool with a sand bottom, the first of a series of pools connected by shallow streams of clear water that formed the headwaters of the South Fork. Dad loved that place, not just for its beauty but for its solitude. It could only be reached by Jeep during the wet season, so we hitched rides with the local game warden, who would drop us off and return for us later. Clyde Butcher’s photos of the upper Loxahatchee River are the nearest thing I’ve seen to what once was the upper South Fork. Then in the fifties, construction of the Florida Turnpike cut off the flow of freshwater to the River. Soon saltwater intrusion crept up the South Fork, impeding the spawning of its fish, and the River began to die. In 1962, a friend and I drove to the former site of the headwaters. The area had been bulldozed and the pool had become a cattle watering hole.

Fork of the St Lucie, Sandra Thurlow

Dad loved many places on the River. Some nights he would drive over to Lighthouse Point (the one with the restaurant on US 1, not the development). He took a lantern, a single-tined spear, and a croaker sack and went wading for flounders. He knew just where they would be, hanging at the edge of the bar waiting for unwary fish and shrimp to wash by. A few hours later he would come home, dump a bag of flounders into the kitchen sink, and start cleaning them. Then the mud from Lake Okeechobee washed down the River and the flounders went away.

https://www.savebromeliads.com/floridas-bromeliads

Dad loved the widest part of the River, where vast schools of mullet gathered along the north shore. Tarpon and snook, seatrout and jack crevalle would attack the mullet and drive them grey-hounding in waves across the River, often all the way to the shores of Stuart. Interactions between Plains wolves and bison were no more dramatic. Much of the action happened at night as we lay in our beds, listening to the mullet thundering across the River. When hurricane season approached, immense schools of fingerling mullet moved down the River, sometimes taking several days to pass Stuart. They too ran the gauntlet of snook and jacks, and residents flocked to the shore to fish. Who then could not love the River, unless he were a mullet?

Burt Pruitt’s Fish Camp, North Fork. St Lucie River

In my early years, Dad loved the lower St. Lucie around Hell Gate, that part of the River that separates lower Sewall’s Point from Port Sewall. Again, it was the fishing that brought him there. When winter storms blew, he could find shelter in the lee of Sewall’s Point, and that’s where he would be, trolling for bluefish or bottom-fishing for weakfish. After the months-long runoff from the ’47 and ’49 hurricanes, though, the fish did not return.

Where the River rounds Sewall’s Point it meets the Indian River Lagoon and together their waters flow over large seagrass beds on their way to St. Lucie Inlet. Dad loved casting for large seatrout on the grass flats, and it was there that he and I were fishing in Dale Hipson’s iconic photo that graces one of Dad’s books.

And of course he loved the inlet, where the River meets the sea. Dad was enchanted by the place he called the Sun Parlor, the channel that hooked north around Sailfish Point and spread out to feed the adjacent grass-beds. Ancient black and red mangroves hung in the water along the channel, and sheepshead and snappers could be seen swimming among the snags in the gin-clear waters on flood tides. Sharks were not uncommon in the channel, and queen conchs and large horse conchs lived in the grass-beds. If you wanted to see a roseate spoonbill in Martin County in the fifties, that’s where it would be. Dad spent countless hours in the Sun Parlor. Then the developers came in the late fifties, and it was lost.

“Ernie with son Bill and Pudge pop-corking at the Crossroads off Sewall’s Point, 1950s” Photo courtesy of Dr. Dale Hipson. Cover of The Last Cracker Barrel by Ernest Lyons

Dad loved Bessey Creek, a tributary of the lower North Fork, and once in the early fifties he accompanied me and two other boys on a camping trip to the upper reaches of the creek. Around the campfire at night, Dad told us of a remote pond connected to the main creek by a hidden stream that he found in his youth. We boys searched until we found it, and we took Dad back there to fish. Judging from the abundance of hungry bass in that pond, I don’t think anyone had been there for decades. There were no houses on Bessey Creek then, and we could spend days without seeing another human being. But around 1960 the county built a new road to extend Murphy Road across C-23 Canal. The road cut across upper Bessey Creek virtually on top of our old campsite and passed within 100 yards of the hidden pond. When I returned from the Army in 1962, I walked across a sand lot from the road to the bank of the pond and gazed at the empty bait cups and beer cans on its shore. Humpty Dumpty was off the wall.

Aerial maps suggest that Mile Lake and a few adjacent lakes in southern St. Lucie County may be ox-bows, formed as part of the North Fork but pinched off as the River meandered away. In his boyhood Dad camped and fished around Mile Lake, and he took me there many times. I don’t know if Dad knew Mile Lake had once been part of the River, but it may explain his affection for the place. He loved the River in all of its many parts, but I don’t know how he’d have felt about Mile Lake surrounded by homes and golf courses as it is now.

Ernie Lyons with Bass, possibly Mile Lake

Dad had a love/hate relationship with the St. Lucie Canal. Its discharges damaged the River downstream, and he campaigned tirelessly but futilely for the Army Corps of Engineers to manage it responsibly. Still, when many of his favorite places were gone, fishing remained good in the canal, and Dad could drive out and fish along its banks. Then, testing found some of the nation’s highest readings for pesticides and heavy metals in fish from the canal. That’s when Dad gave up fishing.

If anyone were to put up signage at Dad’s favorite places on the River, they would need lots of signs. And the signs should say “This was one of Ernest Lyons’ favorite places, a place of magic, until progress did it in. Sit quietly, look closely and try to imagine the sparkle that once was here.” If you can’t see the sparkle, it just looks like water. Or, more recently, like guacamole.

~Bill Lyons, son of Ernest Lyons

A mullet jumps at sunset, St Lucie River off of North River Shores, photo Todd Thurlow.

Biography of Bill’s father, Ernest Lyons

Florida Newspaper Hall of Fame, Ernest Lyons, 1994

Lyons began working as a reporter for The Stuart News in 1931. He also worked as an advertising salesman, printing salesman, then as advertising director for the paper. He became editor in 1945, serving until his retirement on March 1, 1975. He died April 6, 1990, at age 85.

Under Lyons the paper grew from a tiny independent weekly to a lively Scripps Howard daily. As editor, Lyons practiced community journalism at its best. He had a keen sense of what local people wanted to read and a zeal to guard their interests. Fearing that rapid population growth and urbanization might ruin coastal Florida, Lyons fought for  protection of endangered water resources and wildlife habitats.

In 1965, his newspaper columns won the nationwide Edward J. Meeman Award for conservation writing. His writings, some composed 30 or more years ago, still are quoted by conservationists because they ring with enduring concepts and timeless values.

Foam on the Water, C-24 Canal, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Foam floating on water at C-24 Spillway. (Photo Dr.Dave Carlson, September 9, 2015)
Foam floating on water at C-24 Spillway. (Photo Dr.Dave Carlson, September 9, 2015)

FOAM!

Just a few days ago, friend, and sometimes vet to our dogs, Dr Dave Carlson, sent me some unusual photographs of foam pouring out of the St Lucie River’s C-24 spillway, managed by the South Florida Water Management District.

Dave wrote: “Hi Jacqui, was out this am and shot these on the C24 canal. “Iceburgs” in the canal! Real time follow-up to your blogs on these canals.”

“That’s really weird,” I thought. “Foam everywhere!”

I remember foam building up along the shoreline at Stuart Beach periodically when I was a kid. We would pick it up in our cupped hands and throw it at each other; it was great fun. I never knew what formed it though. Was it pollution? It looked kind of gross….

I wrote Dave. “Where is it; and what is it?” I asked.

He replied: “At the spillway going into the North Fork. Are a result of decayed plant and animal protein according to SFWMD. Tyler Treadway did a piece on this after tropical storm Fay, 2008.”

Hmmm? I thought. Decaying plants and animals?…Bizarre. I looked up the TCPalm article, it had one quote regarding foam:

Foam C-24 photo by Dave Carlson, 9-9-15.
Foam C-24 photo by Dave Carlson, 9-9-15.
Form at C-24 spillway. (Photo Dave Carlson 9-9-15)
Form at C-24 spillway. (Photo Dave Carlson 9-9-15.

“What you’re seeing is denatured protein,” said Boyd E. Gunsalus, lead environmental scientist for the South Florida Water Management District’s office on the Treasure Coast, “which is the result of decaying plants and animals.”

That’s nice, and Boyd is awesome. But what does that mean? What are “denatured proteins” and how do they get “denatured?” So I looked them up too. You have to put on your eighth grade science cap! Basically, I think, a denatured protein is an unfolded protein that can then bond with other things to form something else…..in this case causing foam.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denaturation_(biochemistry)

What? But how does that happen?

Now we have to learn, or remember, yet another odd word…. 🙂

In order for the foam to form, and the proteins to “denatureate,” there has to be a “surfactant,” in the water.

Yikes! This sounds like a project for the River Kidz! My science skills are rather rusty! Please share more if you know how this all works!

A surfactant is something that lessens the surface tension on the surface of the water….

According to my reading, the natural surfactant is called DOC (dissolved organic carbon). DOC comes from the decomposition of a wide variety of plant material including algae, decaying animal protein, and aquatic plants…

So to summarize:  the surfactant effect caused by decaying protein bonds and agitation of wind and rain forms foam. This is the basically same phenomenon that happens with detergents and “dirt.” Detergents are also surfactants. There are natural and man-made surfactants. What’s occurring in the SLR is “natural.”

Well that was fun. Leaning about something that looks like pollution in the St Lucie River but isn’t, what a rarity. Nonetheless, I would think all the pollution in the water really helps “stir things up!” Read about it here, these DEP reports are “old” but nothing has changed much so they still apply:

DEP C-24 Eco-summary: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/c24.pdf)

Thank you Dr Dave! Great citizen’s report! Good work for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!


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SFWMD (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/sfwmdmain/home%20page)

A Passion for Nature: (http://winterwoman.net/2008/12/01/foam-in-the-creeks/)

TCPalm, 2008, Tyler Treadway, (http://www.tcpalm.com/news/no-headline-26tstuff)

Town of Skaneateles, NY:  (http://www.townofskaneateles.com/assets/wave.reviews.pdf)
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Video shared on Facebook 9-24-15 by Trena Merendino. C-23 canal with lots of foam: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHyh9wpXrD0)

Insight For Change, Development and Agriculture, North Fork, Ten Mile Creek, SLR/IRL

Contrasting images: Port St Lucie area along North Fork of St Lucie River, 1958 US Government aerials and Google Earth today. Courtesy Todd Thurlow.
Contrasting images: Port St Lucie area along North Fork of St Lucie River, 1958 US Government aerials and Google Earth today. Courtesy Todd Thurlow.

Link to video: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1E8o2TExGs&feature=em-upload_owner)

 

It is an amazing thing to fly through time and space, and this is exactly what I did yesterday with my brother, Todd. He took me on a “flight” over a 1958/Today St Lucie River, North Fork, and Ten Mile Creek. All the while, the images flashing in and out of past and present….Please watch this short video yourself by clicking the link or image above.

At one point along our armchair journey, I said to myself, “Wow, I don’t feel so great,” –just like sometimes when I am with Ed, my husband, in the airplane. I actually got motion sickness having plastered my face right up to the screen to see every moving detail!

A few deep breathing exercises put the feeling off, but next time I’ll take my Dramamine!

Google Earth image at the northern reaches of what was Ten Mile Creek in St Lucie County. Algae in agriculture canals is very visible.
Google Earth image at the northern reaches of what was Ten Mile Creek in St Lucie County. Algae in agriculture canals is very visible.

This flight, as the others you may have experienced on my blog with Todd, is amazing. It allows one to really see what the lands were originally like and how they have been developed as residential homes and endless agriculture fields.

Towards the end of the video, you can even see algae growing in the agriculture canals, off of Ten Mile Creek, St Lucie County–“bright green,” for all to see on Google Earth. I have witnessed these green canals too from an airplane.

Due to drainage canals— leading to drainage canals—leading to drainage canals, this water from the ag fields, and from all of our yards, ends up in the now sickly St Lucie River. This problem is exacerbated by ACOE/SFWMD releases from Lake Okeechobee and the basin area of C-44 in Southern Martin County. These canals and the expanded engineered runoff from the lands is what is killing our river.

It is my hope that with visuals like the video above, future generations will find a way, and want to be a part of a new water and land management generation “seeing” how to improve St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Our generation seems stuck in a quagmire….

Like they say: “seeing is believing,” and seeing provides insight for change. 

*Thank you to my brother Todd, for this incredible journey using overlays of aerial photographs taken in 1958 by the United States Government, and marrying these aerials over images from today’s Google Earth. (http://thurlowpa.com)

 

Northern reaches of North Fork of St Lucie River, Ten Mile Creek in St Lucie County, 1958.
Northern reaches of the North Fork of St Lucie River, Ten Mile Creek in St Lucie County, 1958. Wetlands showing multiple small ponds are visible. These lands were drained in the 1950s by canals C-24, and further south C-23 and further north by C-25. These canals were part of the USACOE  and SFWMD’s effort for more flood control and to expand agriculture and development: These canals are part of the Central and South Florida Flood Control Project of the 1950s which allowed more non flooding development and agriculture, but also destroyed our valuable south Florida waterways.

DEP: C-24 as part of the Central and Southern Flood Control Project 1950s:(http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/c24.pdf)

*The yellow lines are today’s roads for reference; 91 is the Florida Turnpike built in the 50s and 60s.

 

 

Ten and Five Mile Creeks, the Once Glorious Headwaters of the North Fork of the St Lucie River

North Fork of the St Lucie River is fed by Five and Ten Miles Creeks in St Lucie County. Once the glorious headwaters, they are today hardly recognizable.
North Fork of the St Lucie River is fed by Five and Ten Mile Creeks in St Lucie County. Once the glorious headwaters, they are today hardly recognizable.(Photo by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 2010)

10 mile creek

Map, SLC, Ten and Five Mile Creeks are located in St Lucie County north of Midway Road.

Ernie Lyons wrote in the 1960s: “There was never anything more beautiful than a natural South Florida River, like the North and South Forks of the St Lucie…Their banks of cabbage palms and live oaks draped with Spanish moses and studded with crimson flowered air plants and delicate wild orchids were scenes of tropical wonder, reflected back from the mirror-like onyx surface of the water….”

A recent St Lucie County tourist publication goes back even further back: “Early Ten Mile Creek along with Five Mile Creek to the northeast form the headwaters of the North Fork of the St Lucie. These waters were originally comprised of a large area of interconnected march that eventually formed a creek. This marsh system in times of high water connected with the St Johns River, which flows north, allowing native peoples to  travel many miles by canoe. These native peoples lived and flourished in this area 3000 to 750 years BC.”

Although the north fork and attached waters were awarded the “Florida Outstanding Waters” designation in the 1970s, by 1995 the Department of Environmental Protection published a report on pesticide contamination in the area: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/tenmile_creek.pdf)

Today the area is most well known for “Ten Mile Creek,” the failed storm water treatment area  built by the Army Corp of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District (http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Portals/44/docs/FactSheets/10Mile_FS_July2012_508.pdf) Thankfully after more than a decade, the agencies are moving forward on rectifying what they can of the project.

So what happened? How did this paradise die off? How did the “fresh water in the upper zones, furnishing some of the most marvelous sport fishing conceivable” pretty much disappear?

Again, I will quote Stuart News editor and environmentalist, Ernie Lyons: “Drainage canals mostly for agricultural purposes, cut the throats of the upper rivers. During periods of  heavy rainfall, muddy waters gushed down and turned the formerly clear streams into a turbid, silted mess. During dry spells, gated dams held back the water for irrigation. The water table was lowered. Salt marched upstream, turning the formerly fresh waters brackish and eventually so salty that fresh water fish could not procreate.”

As we know, humankind changes his/her environment. Not only were the canals cut in the northern creeks, but Gilbert’s Bar/St Lucie Inlet was opened permanently (by hand) in 1892, allowing salt water permanently into what used to be a fresh water river….the St Lucie.

Somehow it seems we should be able to change things with out creating so much destruction. I have hope our children will…

 

The Irony of History, Drainage Districts to Saving Water, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Canals C-23, C-24 and C-25 were built as part of the Central and South Florida Control Flood Control Project. The project started in the 1940; however these canals were built in the 50s and 60s.
Canals C-23, C-24 and C-25 in St Lucie County were built in the 50s and 60s and are all connected. C-23 and C-24 release into the north fork of the St Lucie River leading to the S. Indian River Lagoon, but C-25 releases straight into the southern central Indian River Lagoon near Taylor Creek, close to the Fort Pierce Inlet.  These canals were built as part of the Central and South Florida Project of the 1940s that came into existence after a very large flood of central and south Florida. (Photo, Jacqui Thurlow Lippisch, 2013)

One of the things that is hardest for me to comprehend is that my ancestors worked as hard, if not harder, to get the water off the land as I am, trying to keep in on…

According to an article shared by my mother, historian Sandra Thurlow, by Charles S. Miley a newspaper man in Ft Pierce, “prior to the 1920s floods were a common occurrence in the area particularly in the back-coutry.”

The article discusses how a demand for drainage  began to develop  among land owners  as the growing of pineapples was no longer profitable and the people turned to citrus. In 1915 citizens in the area of Ft Pierce “held court” forming the North St Lucie River Drainage District. The headline in the News Tribune paper of 1921 read: ” Drainage of 75,000 Ares of Rich Land Now Under Way.”

I can just see it, “Sam, I think it’s time to form a flood district and utilize our lands.” Go forward just shy of 100 years and the conversation is : “Joe, I think it’s time we get the Army Corp to stop dumping this lousy water into the St Lucie River, ruining my riverfront property values.”

The North St Lucie River Water Control District is still in place today and was created, as all drainage districts of its time,  under the provisions of Chapter 298, Florida Statutes, commonly referred to as the “General Drainage Law of Florida.” Today the NSLRWCD falls under the authority of the South Florida Water Management District that historically began really as the Central and South Florida Project, C&SFP.

In 1945 there was massive flooding throughout central and south Florida so the state and its residents called for federal assistance. Sound familiar? It may if you recall that the Hurricane of 1928 caused an even more extreme reaction and the Herbert Hoover Dike was built around Lake Okeechobee by the Army Corp of Engineers. Thus our federal partnerships today. The one that we complain about all the time…Ironic, isn’t it?

ft pierce drainage maap

The green area is the NSLRWCD’s boundaries; the orange are is the Fort Pierce Farms Drainage District,  since 1976 under the South Florida Water Management District.

So, I drifted a bit, but I was talking about the Central and South Florida Project. This large project was formed after the great flood of the 1940s and three huge canals  were built during the 50s and 60s as part of this plan: C-23, C-24 and C-25. I drove over them for years with my parents as a kid and had no idea what they really were, I never learned about them in school, and I was 40 years old before I decided I needed to figure them out…

Canals

Map of canals system, Matin/St Lucie Counties.

I have not even mentioned the C-44 also known as the “St Lucie Canal” that is further south. This canal drains the basin lands around  it as well as being a dumping ground for “overflow waters” of Lake Okeechobee.

The South Florida Water Management’s web site says that after C-23, and C-24 were built, the north fork of the St Lucie River drained lands approximately four times its natural drainage size! That is not even counting C-44 and Lake Okeechobee. Oh, and by the way in 1892  we opened the St Lucie Inlet  permanently too.

We are living a  world very different than Mother Nature created. From what I’m told she’s moody and a bit irritated. I think I’ll keep working on getting her some of her water back!

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History SFWMD: (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xrepository/sfwmd_repository_pdf/nr_2009_0312_60anniversary_1949.pdf )

1988 SFWMD document documenting plans to hold water in the SRL/IRL area, this plan is still under way as part of CERP (Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan): (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/pg_grp_tech_pubs/portlet_tech_pubs/dre-265.pdf) 

Sun Sentinel Story Flood of 1945, Florida: (http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1990-09-09/features/9002130092_1_lake-okeechobee-water-hurricane)

ACOE, C&SFP History: (http://www.evergladesplan.org/about/restudy_csf_devel.aspx)