-September 21, 2022 at 10:48 am, SW Gray Fox Lane, at Heron Preserve, Port St Lucie, FL, aerial photo by Ed Lippisch.
A Different View~Western Port St Lucie
I once read that as a city grows, road names reflect a time long past. This is certainly the case here in western Port St Lucie. The name the road below is “SW Gray Fox Lane,” but there are no longer gray foxes running here. And the development? Ironically, “Heron Preserve.” Don’t think so. Just scraped and squared wetlands that once cleansed water running south. Our river cries for days long past.
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
Today our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon Region is referred to as the “Northern Everglades,” back then, it was all the “Everglades”….
Today’s historic photos were shared because of my last two days of blogging featuring my brother Todd’s flying video showing where the dreaded C-44 canal entered the South Fork of the St Lucie River in 1923 connected from Lake Okeechobee.
Alice Luckhardt, friend and local historian, has been trying to figure out where the Everglades actually “started” in Martin County as she is writing a history of Martin County’s infamous Ashley Gang. (They used to hide out in the Everglades.) Alice’s Leslie’s New World Atlas 1920s map, the second from the top of this page, kind of makes Martin County “look” pretty dry….as do the other two maps shared by my mother…
Viewed closely, the old maps show different “Everglades” boarders as seen most clearly in the 1949 Everglades Drainage District map at the top of this page. This map comes from my mother’s files and she notes that it shows “Township 40, Range 39, in Martin “in” the Everglades….
So what determines “the Everglades?”
Of that I am not certain but in my mind it is a swamp. But swamps in Florida “come and go” with the rains. Also the Everglades has many different faces/landscapes that are part of a greater whole–different kinds of micro environments like pine forest, hardwood hammocks, mangroves forests, endless sawgrass prairies, tall ancient cypress forests, marshlands, wetlands, ponds, some higher ridges separating rivulets and standing water, little creeks that come and go, shallow clean fresh water flowing ever so slowly across white sugar sands…Aggg! Did I just say that! 🙂
So anyway, I then went to the US Government maps my brother showed me awhile back and here one can see the “little ponds “of the Everglades right there in Stuart, Jensen Beach, and of course in what is today’s Palm City. They were in today’s St Lucie County too. Wouldn’t this be the “everglades?”
In fact, when I was a kid, there was a large pond near our family home on East Ocean Boulevard across from today’s Fresh Market. Now it’s gone…and the road goes through…”They” moved it….
I think we have really moved just about “everything.” Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean we can’t put some of it back, or start draining and saving water in a new way. Studying old maps and aerials is a good place to start!
*Thank you to historians Alice Luckhardt and Sandra Thurlow and Todd Thurlow for sharing their cool old maps!
Greg Oravec, Port St Lucie’s new mayor, is a friend to the Indian River Lagoon. Although many of us know him already, as he is the former city manager of PSL, we need to get to know him even better. We need to make him a close ally. He has qualities and desires to help us improve the health of the SLR/ IRL and to work together between Martin, St Lucie and Indian River counties, as well as between the state and federal government.
Mayor Oravec graduated magna cum laude from University of Miami’s honors program in “Marine Environmental Systems.” According to Greg’s bio, as a kid he “grew up fishing and building forts.” Greg loves and appreciates our “good nature….” Today, Greg and his wife are raising three children and want their children to have access to clean water and an healthy outdoor environment too.
So how can Mayor Oravec help us?
Well, in terms of Martin and St Lucie counties, we don’t always think about it, but a tremendous portion of the runoff into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is from St Lucie County. Thank God they are on sewer and not septic for all but 22,000 of their residential properties… This runoff is primarily because of canals C-23 and C-24. These two canals were built as part of the Central and South Florida Project in the 50s and 60s to drain the lands mostly of St Lucie County for agriculture (citrus) and for development. These two canals release untreated agricultural and urban runoff into the north fork and central area of the St Lucie River. In case you don’t know, C-23 is the dividing line between St Lucie and Martin counties, but of course the river knows no boundaries….
For us today, it is important to note that St Lucie County with 250,000 residents is now the 9th largest city in Florida! And it is only going to get bigger with a projected 450,000 plus people by 2050. This is a negative but also a positive, in that St Lucie County and especially the City of Port St Lucie now have significant political power due to this population growth. They are a giant part of the key to getting what we want: more water moving south; no releases from Lake Okeechobee; and the clean up and water storage of excess polluted runoff of canals C-23, C-24 and C-25 into the SLR/IRL.
In fact, the first time I was ever invited to Port St Lucie County to learn about all the city had been doing over the past few years to improve water quality was when I was mayor of Sewall’s Point in 2012 and Greg invited me up to PSL as their city manager. He showed me maps of McCarthy Ranch and the C-23 canal that were part of planning for the city’s water supply, growth, and to clean the polluted water of C-23, along with other impressive local projects.
I have to say, honestly, Greg is one of the most polite yet determined people I have ever met. A true gentleman and a driven man of service. I ask everyone to welcome him and to make him a friend. Email him and congratulate him! Go out of your way to get to know him. Invite him to a Rivers Coalition or River Warrior meeting. Attend a PSL city commission meeting and “speak up!”
It is a rare day, to have such a person as Greg holding the reigns of Port St Lucie.
If you check out his website you will see that he dedicated an entire page to the Indian River Lagoon, stating as part of his goals: “to preserve our natural areas, especially the Indian River Lagoon.”
You can email Mayor Greg Oravec at his new official email : email@example.com
Believe me, we need him more than ever; there is lots of work to do in PSL, but we sure do look forward working together on regional, state and federal issues to help save our shared resource, quality of life, and economy builder, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!
McCarty Ranch is/was located in St Lucie County and will be the future water supply for the City of Port St Lucie.
The first time I heard about McCarty Ranch was from, at the time, City Manager Greg Orvac. It was 2012 and he invited me up to Port St Lucie to see all the wonderful work they were doing building areas to clean water run off and to learn about how the city was planning for its future water supply.
I was told that the idea of McCarty Ranch was that the city would build a water treatment plant to withdrawal the polluted agriculture tainted water in the C-23 canal before it gets to the river, hold it, treat it, and use it.
“Wow,” I thought. “This is wild, I have heard of things like this in other areas of the state, but right here at home?”
This is great news about cleaning the filthy C-23 canal water that is one of many canals along with Lake Okeechobee releases killing our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/c23.pdf) but there is also a tang of future “water wars” in this scenario as cities jostle for securing their future water supply.
Port St Lucie recently has become the 9th largest city in the state of Florida and has approximately 250,000 residents. By 2060 or so, they expect 400,000 or more. Three years before I was born, in 1961, a handful of residents petitioned the legislature for the fish camp area to become a city…
By looking at the Google map above, one can see that McCarty Ranch is located just above the C-23 canal east of Gatlin Boulevard. The C-23 canal is the “county line” between Martin and St Lucie Counties. I do not really know the details, and I think the city and county are still arguing over details in spite of a front page article in Scripps Newspapers today, but one would think the city will either have to also annex some of the lands below the McCarty piece or just have giant pipes connecting it to the C-23 through a small connected parcel. Either way, I am sure over time it will occur. They will build what they need to remove by South Florida Water Management District, (SFWMD), permit, water from the C-23 canal and use it for their citizens.
You may be thinking, the McCarty name rings a bell because you know or because I recently wrote a blog about Dan McCarty awhile back. The blog was about how I stumbled upon a grave in Palms Cemetery along Indian River Drive that read: “Governor Daniel McCarty.”
Yes, the ranch belonged to this prominent St Lucie County, former 1800s pineapple, then ranch and citrus family.
If you have the time to listen to the first video link below, there is a fascinating video interview with Mrs Peggy McCarty Monahan, the granddaughter of Charles Tobin McCarty, talking about her father, the brother of Dan, the governor, saying to her when she was a young girl: “Water is gong to be an issue, water is going to be the most important thing…”
Through these words he was telling her that one day the ranch’s proximity to the City of Port St Lucie would make it ideal for water storage and supply. Many of these old time ranchers preached this theme to their children knowing we had worked so hard to get the water off the land and one day we would be trying to put it back on…
Apparently there are lakes and mined areas on the property for water storage; I am unsure if the original McCarty idea included drawing water from C-23 canal; it very well could be, as C-23 was built in the 50s and 60s and waste tremendous amounts of water to tide in order to drain the surrounding lands for agriculture and development.
C-23 is one of the dirtiest canals dumping into the St Lucie River; it will be good to remove some of the water before it gets to the river but will there ever be a day when it takes too much or Martin County wants that water too?
Sounds far-fetched for sure, but all I know is that stranger things have happened along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Who would have though Port St Lucie would one day be projected to have over 400,000 people?
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.
I have often wondered why Port St Lucie is inland. Where’s the port? Well apparently the name “Port St Lucie,” had been around before the City of Port St Lucie was incorporated in 1961, as originally Port St Lucie was going to be a town that would have been in today’s Martin, not St Lucie County.
The above ad ran around 1913 and was part of Henry Sewall and Hugh Willoughby’s Sewall’s Point Company’s original development campaign to develop Port Sewall and Golden Gate as the “Great Port of Stuart.” At the time, this area was Palm Beach County but became Martin County in 1925.
Under the ad’s photo it reads: “Looking across one of the Lakes toward the St Luice River and the Inlet.” I imagine the lake was either North or West Lake, still located in today’s Willoughby Creek area. The ad also states that the location of Port St Lucie will be “directly opposite the St Lucie Inlet.” Viewing a copy of the 1911 Port Sewall promotional map below, one can see exactly where that is located, Old St Lucie Boulevard, Stuart.
The advertisement in the long winded style of the day continues:
“The lands west of the railway is laid out in tracts for FARMS and GARDENS. East of the railway are the business lots and large residence lot for the PORT OF ST LUCIE and the WATERFRONT is divied into lots of about two acres each for FINE RESIDENCES and WINTER HOMES. Ten acres are reserved for a PARK and five acres for a large TOURIST HOTEL on the water front. Situated at the junction of the St Lucie and Indian Rivers and St Lucie Inlet with a climate tempered by the soft breezes from the GULF STREAM and every month in the year a GROWING MONTH and FRUITS, FISH, FLOWERS and VEGETABLES in abundance….TENNIS, FISHING, MOTOR BOAT, SAILING RACES, CRUISING INLAND WATERS.
The kicker phrase: PROFIT AND PLEASURE combined in an IDEAL LOCATION…
Well, the land bust and the Great Depression came to Florida in the mid 1920s so the “Town of Port St Lucie” and its great port were never built, but let’s fast forward to 1961 a bit north in St Lucie County, and the “City of Port St Lucie” surely did!
Believe it or not, today Port St Lucie is the 9th largest city in the state of Florida. With their high population they are a bigger political player than Martin County and I am thankful for their commission’s support of strict fertilizer ordinances and pro river issues in this year’s legislative session. Port St Lucie is a key player today and in the the future for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The county has also been very supportive!
Back to our history lesson…
Before the 1950s, Port St Lucie was mostly ranch and fishing camp lands as this photo from Bud Adams for the publication Port St Lucie at 50, A City for All People, by Nina Baranski shows.
The story goes that in the 1950s the wilderness favored by hunters and anglers was discovered by Mike Cowles whose company published Look Magazine and also had ties to the Ft PierceTribune. Cowles was “taken by the beauty of the St Lucie River and the land along its banks” buying eighty-five hundred acres south of Ft Pierce. In 1953 through his “St Lucie River Land Company,” he filed the River Park plat, and began to develop and promote it. (Port St Lucie at 50, A City for AllPeople, Chapter 2.)
Cowles eventually traded his land holdings for stock in, newcomer to the game, General Development Corporation, (GDC), becoming chairman in 1959. After acquiring more ranch tracks, GDC made plans to incorporate into a city and with “hardly any residents” did so with full support of the legislature in 1961. And as we know, the rest is history…..
It’s interesting to note that the history of Martin and St Lucie Counties has always been intertwined, and that whether 1913, 1961, or today, it is the beauty and attraction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon that on a core level connects us all. Our future long-term job, together, is to save it.
This photo is not great quality but allows one to see how undeveloped St Lucie County was…This photo is courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow, and is on the inside cover of “Port St Lucie at 50.” It is a rare aerial of the southern portion of St Lucie County taken in 1957 before its incorporation and development.