Tag Archives: sasser

“What The Muck?!” SLR/IRL

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Flying over the black gold of the EAA. JTL
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Fields in Pahokee, JTL

Road Trip Series.

Since I began my Glades “Road Trip” Series, I have read three books by Lake Okeechobee historian, Laurence E. Will: Okeechobee Hurricane, Swamp to Sugar Bowl, and A Cracker History of Okeechobee.

These books hold amazing stories of the Glades; if Mr. Will hadn’t written, there would be very few first-hand accounts of farming that became a Florida mega-industry just over the first half century of the 1900s. Today, I will transcribe some of his most interesting descriptions of Lake Okeechobee, the magical landscape that was transformed into today’s contoversial Everglades Agricultural Area, for none other than its MUCK.

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EAA below Lake Okeechobee. (Public map SFWMD)
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Photo of pond apples also know to locals as custard apples in Big Cypress- shared on Flicker by photographer Mac Stone, allow us to envision what this incredible forest looked like. 32,000 acres rimming the southern and eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. The best muck built up over thousands of years under these roots that worked like a seine as the lake overflowed its edge then running south through the sawgrass. The Everglades….

When I was on my recent tour with former mayor of Pahokee, J.P. Sasser, I learned the nick-name for Pahokee is “The Muck,” named so for the “black gold” soil that accumulated over thousands of years under the roots of a custard apple forest that rimmed the lake. (Kind of like fresh water mangroves today in the Indian River Lagoon.)

When one drives deeper into the Glades, one finds similar nick-names or “muck mottos,” that have to do with the muck. For instance, Belle Glade’s motto is “Her Soil is Her Fortune;” Clewiston’s is “America’s Sweetest Town,” and South Bay’s refers to its highways, “Crossroads of South Florida,” named so for its intersection of two major roads, East-West State Road 80, and North-South, U.S. Highway 27, roads that get one into the muck, or out of it….

Will first experienced the Lake in the early 1900s as a boy when his father was developing Okeelanta, located about four miles below today’s South Bay. Okeelanta, today a mill location for the Fanjul holdings, was located not in an apple custard forest, but rather in the miles of sawgrass lying south. Although the soil here is excellent, it is different, more peaty and not as “mucky.” Thus the most productive lands lie closer to the lake, deep in the MUCK.

Here is a moving account by Will about the land of muck in “Cracker History of Lake Okeechobee:

“Before the dredges crashed through the custard apple woods to start the first canals, the lake most always stayed high and clear, unbroken except for those islands Kreamer, Torry, and Observation. When I first saw the lake it was still wild. Excusing the trifling settlements at Utopia, Ritta, and Tantie, a score of fishing camps, and the openings to four unfinished canals, it’s swampy shores hadn’t changed since Zachary Taylor found the redskins or probably not since DeSoto anchored in Tampa Bay. It sill was just as the good Lord had fashioned it. The lake was lonely Mack, silent and mysterious as well. But I tell you boy, it was beautiful, and sort of inspiring too.”

Will was absolutely pro development, pro farming/agriculture,  but he, like most of the old timers, recognized the tremendous awe-inspiring beauty of the place.

Most all the natural beauty the lakeside shoreline in Martin County, where the FPL Power Plant is today, and north to the town of Okeechobee has also been radically altered as well.

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FPL solar plant and “cooling pond” in Martin County looking west towards “Barley Barber Swamp.” This area was once a forest of mostly giant cypress trees and others. JTL

Excerpts by Lawrence E. Will:

“Dense forest ringed the lake around. Along its northern half water oak, maple, cypress, potash, rubber and palmetto trees crowded each other on the lakeshore ridge…the south shore and half way up the eastern side was something else… Here were custard apples, a solid belt of tropical trees, blanketed with a moonvine cover, which stood, two miles or more in width, without break or opening, from near Clewiston’s Sand Point, slap around to Port Mayaca. 32,000 acres of custard apple woods there were, the most of these trees, I wouldn’t doubt, on the whole blamed continent of America.”

“…Although the shores were for the most part black muck, low and flat, there were some fine sandy beaches too. Along the east side for eighteen miles lay beautiful East Beach…”

“Now if Zachary Taylor or Hamilton Disston could return to Okeechobee they would find that farmers have exterminated the custard apple woods. Highways, service stations, super markets and housing projects have replaced the cypress, rubber and maple trees along the ridge. A levee occupies the onetime shore and drainage has lowered by half a dozen feet the water’s elevation. Tractors cultivate the former seining grounds, and unless you as old–and no amount, as some of us, your never heard of town of Tantie, Utopia or Ritta. Civilization has re-made the lake and I’d be the last to say it isn’t better so, but the lakeshore’s one time natural beauty is long gone, and man, wasn’t that old lake a fascinating place.” 

Well, to the land of Lake Okeechobee! For all she was, and for all she is. It’s enough to make one exclaim:”What The Muck?!!!”

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Agriculture’s Eradication of the Mythical Pond Apple Forest, Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL: https://www.google.com/amp/s/jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2015/04/15/agricultures-eradication-of-the-mythical-pond-apple-forest-lake-okeechobee-slrirl/amp/?client=safari

Black Gold and Silver Sands, Snyder/Historical Society of Palm Beach County https://floridafoodandfarm.com/book-reviews/turning-soil-gold-silver-look-back-palm-beach-county-agriculture/

Lawrence E. Will: http://museumoftheglades.org

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War map of the Everglades created during the Seminole Wars, 1856.

*Custard Apples are also known as Pond Apples. The old photos of the trees are from Mr Will’s books or the Florida Memory Project.

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Pond apple blossom. Photo by Lisa Jefferson, 2015.

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Proposed land purchase in the EAA, Senator Joe Negron 2016/17.

My Tour of the Glades with JP Sasser, Part#1, SLR/IRL

Roadtrip Series:

Part 1, Pahokee

I would like to thank former mayor of Pahokee, JP Sasser for on November 29th guiding me through a seven hour tour of the Glades! At first you may think JP and I are unlikely “friends.” Actually we have something very much in common in that we have both been mayors of small Florida cities.

Yes, there are also a few serious things we don’t have in common such as our opinion regarding land purchase in the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA), for a reservoir to alleviate the destruction of the St Lucie River. Also, Sasser has written extensively about concerns regarding the direction of the Rivers Coalition. I have been on the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund for six years. Mayor Sasser and I have not always been on the same page. For me this is O.K. JP and I having differences of opinion shouldn’t preclude working together. At this point in my river journey, I am going to do all I can to build relationships. To find common ground. “Common muck” should I say?

Anyway, enough politics. My tour was awesome! For this post, I will just concentrate on Pahokee.

JP and I met at Canal Point, at the USDA Sugarcane Field Station that dates back to 1920 about ten miles south of the Martin County/Palm Beach County line at the WPB Canal.IMG_7552.jpg

Pahokee has about 6000 residents. It has beautiful new schools. Many of the lands are owned by family farmers and the Fanjul family. The population is about 80% black and 20% white. Everyone I met was friendly and happy to see me.

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Locals fishing at marina

JP asked me where I wanted to go. I asked him to take me to the Pahokee Marina and Tiki Bar that he so famously worked for during his mayorship. This marina is within view of Port Mayaca in Martin County. JP’s dream was that this marina would become the basis for economic development and diversity of Pahokee. The city desires economic development. (http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/business/guy-harveys-resort-chain-eyes-site-in-okeechobee-c/nmwGw/)

I learned that Pahokee unlike much of the Glades is thirteen feet above the lake. It is high ground. The town is just a few miles long and 500 feet wide right along the dike. One sees dike, houses, road and then fields…Thus when the ACOE recently wanted to make improvements and “go out 500 feet out from the dike” they would have basically had to had to knock down the city.

I learned that much of the lands close to the Lake were covered with Apple Custard Trees that had been removed in the early 1900s and thus the lands have excellent deep muck soil that grows not only sugarcane, but sod, corn, vegetables, and supports tree farming. Pahokee is known as “Muck City.”

JP then took me off the beaten track to see his horses and donkeys. So here is something else we have in common. A love of animals!

We drove on…JP showed me the remains of the Pelican River which led to Pelican Bay that I had read about in my book. This was the area where the Palm Beach Times reported over 400 dead after the 1928 Hurricane. I tried not to imagine…

We then drove to Pahokee’s original graveyard that had to be moved along with its resting bodies to Port Mayaca in Martin County after the 1928 Hurricane. There was a plaque that listed those who had been buried there. A sad thought, but here is another way Martin County and the Glades are connected.

We visited the airport. Very nice. Right along the lake. In fact this area was once lake bottom. Bizarre. Hmmm…My husband Ed would like this airport I thought. More possibilities for economic development?

Again back to the dike. It always goes back to the dike…

We checked up on ACOE repairs where they had draped the pipes carrying water to the fields over the dike like spaghetti and then JP took to me to lunch….

Part #2  will be entitled: “The Best Fried Chicken of My Life.” Please see photos below.

 

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JP at Pahokee Marina
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Driving on road atop the dike by marina
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View from dike looking south. Homes stand right next to the dike.
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Old Pelican River
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Tree Farm looking from dike
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JP’s horese and donkeys

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Original Pahokee graveyard at base of dike

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Old Graveyard
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Pahokee’s nice new roads with lovey houses on right and fields on other side of road
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Canal and control structure to fields
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Location of airport, once lake bottom

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JP
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Repair of dike ACOE with water for irrigation from lake over dike so they can get to culverts

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