In the 1970s, my girl scout troop often spent the night in Jonathan Dickinson State Park. At the time, almost all of Martin County was undeveloped so it really didn’t hit me – the value in this very special place.
We girls collected dried flowers, seeds, and grasses to be bound with ribbons and given to our mothers; we lay our packs on bunk beds in musty cabins; we hiked through the pines; we sat around the campfire telling ghosts stories and speaking of bears until too scared to sleep; we sat in a rare silence, together, staring at the bright stars while eating marshmallows…
Last weekend, I went back to Jonathan Dickinson ~45 years later, this time with my husband Ed, and our dog, Luna.
Although I have aged, the place was even more beautiful! Almost immediately, I knew that even though I hadn’t walked it’s piney paths in such a long, long time, it had been an inspiration all my life. A seed growing within me.
Ed and I chose to walk the trail of Kitching Creek. My attention was captured by the beauty of the small flowers and I took as many pictures as I could. Slash pine trees abounded, like sentinels, second generation, the magnificent virgin forest cleared in the the 1920s. Woodpeckers flew from tree to tree looking for insects or maybe a place to set up house. Ed walked far ahead with Luna, stopping every time he came upon a number; I would catch up and read aloud from a pamphlet available at the trail head.
On our walk, I recognized some of the same grasses I used for my bouquet in 1974. But I knew this time I would not pluck them from the Earth, but take them to heart as inspiration in our fight for clean water, -the St Luice and Loxahatchee-, and the future of Florida.
~I then I realized that long ago, I already had.
Before drainage there were times the surrounding wetlands, the St Luice, and the Loxahatchee Rivers were wet enough that people could paddle between them. Today the Loxahatchee suffers from too little water and the St Lucie too much.
For a number of weeks now, I have been on this quest to be able to identify pine trees as the history of our forests are connected to the our St Luice River. To get me started, my mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, lent me a number of books, historic photographs, and great old newspaper articles. What I thought would be easy has ended up being hard.
Today, I am going to begin my pine tree series, asking for your help, starting with the example of the post card above. This ca. pre 1900 post card shows something we do know: Stuart, Martin County was once covered in pine forests, mostly sand pines or slash pines, but throughout varied texts that are references to other types of pines too.
According to column entitled “Memories of Early Forests In This Area” written on January 24th, 1974 by Stuart News editor, Ernie Lyons “most of the virgin longleaf yellow pines…were logged off from 1918-1928.”It has been confusing to me that Mr Lyons an avid naturalist, mentions longleaf yellow pines, rather than slash pines, but as all the trees were cut, I doubt I will ever know for sure the answer to this question: “Were there any longleaf pines in the lands that became Martin County?
Mr Lyons also notes: “They were magnificent trees, some towering to 60 feet. Where the big pines prevailed there was almost no undergrowth , just a forest floor carpeted with pine needles and giant cones.“
Pine identification is hairsplitting but it is easy to see that the longleaf pine has the giant pine cones, not the two varieties of slash pine, nor a sand pine. This leaves one wondering, could Ernie Lyons possibly be talking about longleaf pine? https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FR/FR00300.pdf
Below is Ernie Lyons’ column. What pine or pines do you think he is taking about? 🙂
Most of the virgin longleaf yellow pines in this part of Florida were logged off form 1918 to 1928. They were magnificent trees, some towering to 60 feet. Where the big pines prevailed there was almost no undergrowth, just a forest floor carpeted with pine needles and giant cones.
The big stands were practically immune to the ravages of fire. There simply wasn’t enough undergrowth to send the flames high enough to reach viable limbs and branches. But the lumberman’s crosscut saw was a different matter.
This not to say that all of Martin and St Lucie counties was tall yellow pine country. The big pines did not favor high water tables. The were most avoidant on the high ground along the North and South Forks of the St Luice. There were scattered strands on high ridges in western Martin County and dense forests between Indiantown and Okeechobee.
Three big mills operated in the area at that time. One of the largest was at Rio, with a logging railroad which ran from there across the North Fork at about the site of the present Port St. Lucie bridge over the river. Another mill, which left a giant pile of sawdust was located on the upper North Fork about half a mile west of the present mouth of C-24, then called Cane Slough Creek. There was a giant lumber and turpentine operation at Sherman west of Indiantown.
By the time the Florida Boom collapsed in 1928, there were not enough big trees left to make it worthwhile to operate large mills and the bottom had fallen out of lumber prices.
Then began the era of the small “hit and run” portable saw mills. These gathered in the few big trees overlooked becasue they were in dense hammocks and so hard to get out that the effort had not been worth the trouble.
The small operators cut anything big enough to saw a two-by-four from. Timber leasing was often overlooked entirely. If leasing was observed, the usual practice was to lease a quarter section and then timber the sections around it on all sides.
By the early 1940s, the county was practically denuded of pines bigger than three or four inches in diameter. It was a scraggly, ugly county, its natural beauty demolished shamefully. There has been a remarkable recovery in the past 34 years, but the pines of any size that you see now are mostly second growth and will never equal the old virgin forests.
The only evidence of the the former forests in most of the county is pitch pine stumps, and in recent years most of these have been removed and shipped off to make resin, turpentine, and dynamite.
I saw the virgin yellow pine forests up the North Fork and they are a marvelous sight to remember. They were the haunt of the huge Florida fox squirrels, big as cats- black, black and white, grey and reddish. When the big pines went, fox squirrels became scarce.
Some of he tallest pines, especially near lakes and along the river, had stick nests of bald eagles in their crowns. One over near the south end of Mile Lake, had a pair of the most aggressive eagles I ever saw, especially when there were newly hatched eagles up above. I discovered it was not safe to come within a few hundred feet of that tree without being dive -bombed in turn by Ma and Pa.
Wild turkeys used to stroll singe file through the tall pine forests as also did sandhill cranes.