Tag Archives: St Johns River

Tales of the St Johns – Palatka to Sanford

East Palatka, St Johns River selfieHow does one tell the story of the St Johns River?  Believe it or not, the St Johns River starts close to home in the western marshes of Indian River and northern St Lucie counties. Drained and destroyed for agriculture and now in the process of being restored, the waters of these wetlands wind north, melding with springs, creeks, and rivers finally exiting into the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville. This is the mighty St Johns!

When Ed and I began our trawler excursion this year, I really didn’t know what to expect. I read as much as I could, asking my mother to share history, but even so I was really unprepared for the experience. The St Johns is so long (310 miles) and covers so much territory. It runs through twelve counties. I couldn’t even find it on one map. With the Mainship’s ¬†four foot draft, only a portion of the river was navigable (Jacksonville to Sanford) but it is much longer than that. So again, how does one tell the story of the St Johns River? A part at a time.

  1. Stuart to Ortega
  2. Ortega to Palatka

Today’s part, 3, Palatka to Sanford, is longer than the previous two and will be the final tale of our journey. By the way, as 1st Mate, I didn’t miss a line! ūüôāOn September 11, 2021, Adrift departed¬†the shores of East Palatka headed for Sanford. We were excited. There would be famous things to see along the way like, Rodam Reservoir, Lake George, Welaka State Forest, Astor, Hontoon Island, Blue Springs State Park, and Lake Monroe. We had overnighted at Corki Bells¬†close to the 2,757 acre Horseshoe Point Conservation Area the night before. As with the entire St Johns, in some areas the water appeared¬†impaired and in others not. By the conservation area the water looked healthy. The fish were jumping. ¬†It was this morning that we saw the first eagle.

“Ed is that an osprey or an eagle? It has a white head. Oh my gosh! It’s an eagle!”

Over the course of the next two days, Ed and I saw a total of sixteen eagles, mostly in pairs.  They were staring down at us from tall cypress trees; they were sitting on channel markers eating fish; they were swirling overhead. It was incredible! None of my photographs are good enough to share, but I did take a photo of a mural at Corki Bells that gives the feel of these soaring majestic eagles, especially on Patriot Day. -Map showing St Johns River cut of Cross Florida Barge Canal to the Ocklawaha River

PALATKA

One cannot tell the story of the St Johns without telling the story of the Ocklawaha. Not¬†too far south of Palatka’s conservation area lies a cut from the St Johns River into the Ocklawaha River¬†-scared by the history of¬†Rodman Pool and Kirkpatrick Dam. In the 1960s and 70s Marjorie Carr and Defenders of the Environment garnered public and political will to halt the ecological nightmare of the still infamous¬†Florida Cross State Barge Canal. Today activists calls continue to free the damed Ocklawaha.

I had read so much about the 1800s Riverboat trips to Silver Springs and how they define the history of Florida itself -so much so that there is a giant painting by Christopher Still in the state Capitol entitled “Ocklawaha”and historic documents and photos of the river are housed in the archives of the University of Florida. She is a part of the St Johns we must never forget.

-Dredged cut ¬†into St Johns River- the beginning of the Cross Florida Barge Canal-Historic postcardsRiverboat mural of the Ocklawaha, Florida State CaptiolUFLibrary Theodore Hahn’s Ocklawaha historic documents and photos

LAKE GEORGE

The winding waterway south of Palatka is treed with cypress, sable palms, and other trees I didn’t know with only a few small towns along the way. We saw turtles, alligators, wading birds and more eagles! ¬†After about five hours we made it to¬†Lake George the second largest lake in Florida and interesting enough, although the river is fresh at this point miles from the ocean, the lake is brackish -due to salt water springs- leftovers of an ancient Florida sea. The first clue we were in a different ecology was the abundance of hundreds of seabirds: seagulls, terns, and smaller birds I did not recognize. It was as if we were at the ocean! Shallow, eleven miles long, and six miles wide, Lake George is known for quickly- rising dramatic storms. Sure enough, when we entered the lake it was a beautiful day, by the time we were exiting, cumulonimbus had developed over the eastern edge forming thunder, lightening, wind, and white caps.

-Seabirds line the wooden guide to exit Lake George

ASTOR

Just south of Lake George lies Astor, a small hamlet that friend Captain Paul, who we’d met in Ortega, recommended. Ed and I stayed at Astor Bridge Marina. After a creative docking assignment, Ed and I exited Adrift stumbling upon the gigantic¬†William Bartram Memorial Oak that had almost been obliterated by Highway 40 -basically cutting this little town in half.

As most of us were taught in school, in the mid 1700s William Bartram returned as he’d first come as a boy with his father to famously document the St Johns River Valley’s flora and fauna. The records remain a baseline today. For me it was serendipitous to find the ¬†memorial tree and learn that Astor was a location that William Bartram had actually overnighted. Between all the eagle sightings and the memorial oak, I was feeling inspired to continue my own ¬†journey for the St Lucie River. -William Bartram Memorial Oak, Astor, FL

AN ACCOUT BY WILLIAM BARTRAM

There was an exquisite sunset that evening. Sitting on the upper deck, as Ed sipped a vodka, and I drank white wine, I read Ed an excerpt from William Bartram. An account of a storm on Lake George as shared in Tales on the St Johns River, by Hallock. ¬†Behold the little ocean of Lake George!” How absolutely full of wildlife the St Johns River Valley must have been when the Bartrams visited Florida in the 1700s! His accounts of birds, alligators, deer, bears, wolves, fish, the tannin-clear waters, and native people is especially amazing . I started to realize the St Johns Valley is equally important to the Everglades.

SANFORD

-Ed fixing the water pumpOn the morning of September 12, 2021, we departed for our final St Johns destination, Sanford on Lake Monroe. Docking was easy at Monroe Harbor Marina.¬†Ed wanted to go get a pump as our water pump was failing, so I looked around ¬†while he went to the office. Immediately I recognized ¬†something because I’d been reading that William Bartram book. I saw hundreds, if not thousands, of dime sized¬†banded mystery snail¬†shells.

The grackles had eaten the mollusk and thrown the shells aside. I remembered Bartram’s account about the native people of Lake Monroe eating these by the millions to sustain themselves, creating middens, and that some of these middens remain today. What a name: Banded Mystery Snails…

-Lake Monroe approaching Sanford-Banded Mystery Snails from Lake Monroe, Sandford, FLWhere is Sanford anyway?To the east of Sanford lies Cape Canaveral and to the west Mount Dora. My maternal grandmother, Dorothy Dell Rawls Henderson, was born in Plymouth, Florida, not too far southwest of Sanford, close to Lake Apopka. The metropolis of Orlando lies south and Sanford International Airport, once a naval air station, now operates worldwide. Sanford has had its up and downs but now it is growing!

It was a fun change from being anchored out. There were good restaurants. There are great historic districts. Goldsboro was interesting. It was the second black incorporated township in the Inited States! ¬†And the Sanford Museum?¬† It told the story of how the city grew up from agriculture south of Lake Monroe and Swedish immigrants role in its success. Once the citrus crop froze in the late 1800s, Sanford became the “Celery Capital of the World.” I never knew that!

-Sanford Museum with celery columns¬† -Sandford’s famous downtown clock -St Johns Riverboat tours ¬†on Lake Monroe a big hit since 1850! -Downtown is historic and modern¬†-The best pancake breakfast and coffee Ed and I ever had! Colonial Room Diner-Having fun! Many homes had natural yards for butterflies and birds in the historic¬†district. -Veterans Memorial Park, Lake Monroe It’s hard to share everything so I have just noted highlights. What a great experience the 2021 St Johns trawler excursion had been! ¬†It was sad to leave but it was time to get back to the St Lucie. Our farewell was a ¬†beautiful and crystalline day and Ed and I shall cherish ¬†it forever. “Goodbye St Johns! Thank you for sharing! Thank you for educating! Thank you for un-plugging us from social media! Now please safely take us home.”

So on September 15, now tried and true, Ed and I left Sanford to head back up the St Johns and then down the Indian River ¬†towards “Stuart on the St Lucie.”

-Heading out of Lake Monroe-A mirror of beauty, the St Johns… -Returning home…

Watch a video of the beautiful St Johns River 

Tales of the St Johns-Ortega to Palatka

-Suspension bridge, Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka.Today’s blog post continues the story of Ed my recent trawler excursion along the St Johns River.¬†It was September 9 and we had been Adrift¬†for eight days. Definitely starting to “mellow out,” the world as we knew it seemed a million miles away.

In order to reach Palatka, we’d departed¬†Ortega at dawn. With the wind at our backs and overcast skies, Ed guided us past some of the most beautiful small towns and shorelines of the St Johns River: Mandarin, the home of Harriett Beecher Stowe; Hibernia, where Margaret Fleming taught her slaves to read; and Green Cove Springs, location of the famed “Fountain of Youth, and the “Mothball Fleet.” ¬†So much history and Palatka would offer even more.¬†St Mary’s Episcopal Church built in 1878, shoreline, Green Cove SpringsGetting from Ortega to Palatka took about five hours. As we nibbled on apples and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we looked down on a tannin colored, wide, curvy, and heavily treed St Johns. I had to wonder how much different it looked during the St Johns Riverboat era, long over a hundred years ago. The river’s path was taking a significant swing west. Dark clouds had formed and the ominous Seminole Power Generating Station gleamed like a dark sentinel as we slowly approached Palatka.“Is that Georgia-Pacific?” Ed pointed from the upper deck to what looked like billowing smokestacks.

“Yes, the area of the paper mill, and a coal-fired power station I think.” I yelled back from the bow.

“Isn’t Palatka the place you read there was once a giant lumber yard?

I shook my head up and down. “Wilson Cypress Company, established 1891-the second largest cypress mill in the world! I can’t imagine cutting down all those giant trees!”

-AdriftWith a few squalls but no major issues, we pulled into the Boathouse Marina, where Craig, the dock hand, greeted us with firm direction and a friendly demeanor. ¬†As were tying up, I saw the remains of an old riverboat along the shoreline; a gator slipped into the water. “I’m gonna love this place.” I thought. And we did!

Before we went exploring, Ed wanted to take the dingy out and go across to East Palatka. It was windy and clouds were in the distance but I agreed. We made it across and explored but on the way home the engine sputtered and died.

“You have got to be kidding me.” Ed said.

I remained silent. Ed fooled with the battery. Watching the clouds rolling in from the west and checking my phone, I could see it read: “Lightening in Area.”

“There is lighting Ed. You better start rowing!” Ed looked sternly into my eyes. “That’s why I have the paddles!”¬†he replied. I knew this was not the time for discussion. So like a modern Cleopatra I sat looking at my phone while Ed rowed across to Palatka proper. Luckily, Ed did a great job and we made it safely across. Ed immediately got a beer and went over to look at the old riverboat and see if I could find the alligator. Paltka is like a time-capsule of Florida history: railroads, riverboats, and wonderful historic homes. Our favorite excursion was¬†Ravine Gardens State Park, one of nine 1930s New Deal state parks in Florida. The park is an ancient ecological wonderland with two ravines up to 120 feet deep featuring walking paths, gigantic trees, and wildlife. Its springs and waters trickle to the St Johns. It is part of the famed Bartram Trail of 1773-1777. It was a quite a hike and beautiful!¬† -Court of States,¬†“Hi mom and dad!”I was born at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, 1964!¬†-The Amphitheater¬† We also enjoyed the “The Hammock,” part of Palatka’s authentic Historic District. These homes were built during the city’s hay day of railroad crossings and Riverboats. Palatka is the City of Murals.¬†All together there are twenty-three! On the way home from Ravine State Gardens we followed the on-line guide and visited almost all. A great way to share the past. Palatka has a great historic downtown right in the middle of the murals and the homes. They have not taken down their Confederate statues but the conversation is alive and well!Before I close on this chapter of Palatka, there is one more story I must tell. The public docks were within vision of the marina. For two days and nights Ed and I had seen crowds of locals throwing cast nets off the dock and this went on for hours. One night there was thunder and lightening and I awoke around midnight. I got up and looked outside. To my surprise the people were still throwing their cast nets! I woke up Ed.

What do you think they are catching?” I asked. “There must be something really incredible in those waters! What do you think? Catfish? Mullet? What could it be?”¬†

Ed kept snoring and when we awoke the next morning, the fisher people were still there. When we went to dinner that evening at a great Mexican restaurant, the fisher people were still there! On our walk home, I just couldn’t take it anymore.

“Let’s go visit the dock Ed!”We walked in the dim light onto the dock filled with people. Old folks, children, women, men. They were casting their nets into the water methodically, one throw at a time. Ed and I watched, walking along the far side of the dock, trying not to get in their way. We strained our eyes to see.

“Shrimp Ed! “They are catching shrimp!” They were not bring up many, maybe ten to twenty at a time. Each person had a five gallon bucket. Little kids would pick up the shrimp that got free and place them back into the bucket. I saw one they’d missed at the edge of the dock that certainly would have shriveled up. ¬†I snuck it into my hand. I looked at the people working.

“May I take a picture?” I asked one of the sitting men.

“Sure,”¬†he said. “Are the shrimp here all the time?” I inquired.

“No mam. They are here just once a year. This is the St Johns River shrimp run.” Ed and I smiled. We walked to the end of the pier. “I can’t believe it!” Ed said, “I never would have guessed!” I threw the shrimp that had been snapping in my hand as far off the dock as ¬†possible. “Stay low.” I whispered, hearing the shrimp are caught as they ride a rising current.

“Incredible,” Ed said grabbing my hand.

So many things we didn’t yet know about the wonderful St Johns River. Next stop Astor.

Watch a video of the locals shrimping!

Shrimp Op-Ed 

 

Tales of the St Johns-Stuart to Ortega

So my blog has been quiet for a while. I have been away, but today I look forward to sharing with you Ed and my recent journey. On September 2, 2021, Ed and I began our trawler excursion number two. ¬†Last year we christened “Adrift” by completing the Southern Loop. This year our goal was something a bit more unfamiliar, the St Johns River.

Always worried about leaving in the heart of hurricane season, we were pleased that the weather was nice leaving “Stuart on the St Lucie.” Inching around the southern tip of home, the peninsula of Sewall’s Point, we headed north on the Indian River Lagoon. Honing our skills, we anchored-out the first night in Wabasso, and again the second night in Titusville. The third night we docked at the Halifax Harbor Marina in Daytona; and the forth at St Augustine Municipal Marina.

St AugustineIt was St Augustine that awoke us from our South Florida slumber. Historic St Augustine lies at the intersection of what is named the Matanzas and Tolomoto Rivers and sits directly across from the St Augustine Inlet.

Docking at the marina went well, but our departure, not so much. In the pastel clouded morning, as wading birds and rock pigeons flew in every direction, Ed and I pulled away to continue on to Jacksonville. As we were slapping ourselves on the back for “an exit well done” the strong current pushed our craft aside sending us in the direction of two enormous yachts. We were headed for collision. Time froze, Ed and I could not believe our eyes. It happened so fast!

I followed orders grabbing a starboard line, but realized there was really nothing I could safely achieve. The force of the tide was overbearing. Ed’s instincts kicked in, he exercised full power, stern hitting a lone piling that swung wildly as we pulled away.

I heard a gentleman holding a cup of coffee yell to Ed: “Nice save!”

Ed and I looked at each other incredulously, both knowing it was more luck than skill that saved us. Miraculously, there was no damage other than our egos. From here on out, Ed and I paid great attention to the tides and currents of the region.We didn’t talk much that day, and the Tolomato River region revealed its most beautiful residents to sooth our spirts. At one point along the miles of bright green marshes, forty-two roseate spoonbills flew past! It was spectacular! Eventually we entered “the northern part of the ditch,¬†better known as the Intracoastal Waterway and suddenly we we entering the mighty St Johns River.

Jacksonville

The Intracoastal and the St Johns intersect just west of the inlet at the Atlantic Ocean and Mayport, one of the largest naval stations in the United States and historic fishing village. As we veered west, Jacksonville came into view. It was impressive and intimidating. The river was wide and ships the length of skyscrapers filled the shorelines. I kept looking down, thinking I could “see” the tide. This river made the St Lucie look like a brook. In spite of the size of the river and the heavy industry, I kept noticing what appeared to be Monarch butterflies flying low across the water to the other side of the St Johns.“Unbelievable,” I thought. “How do they do that?”Everywhere I looked there were tugboats and container ships. A pod of dolphins joined our wake to say “hello.” Ed and I laughed and for a moment in time, nothing else existed. Just joy! “I can’t believe there are dolphins here!” Ed exclaimed.The dolphins finally pulled away and Ed shifted his eyes to the horizon. Our destination was an historic neighborhood, Ortega, about eight miles away located on the western bank of the St Johns River. Ed slowed down, called on the radio and little Ortega River Bridge slowly opened. The horn blew – a sound from a simpler past. “Thank you!” I waved from the bow and shortly thereafter we slid into a slip at the Ortega Marina.That evening we met Captain Paul, the Ortega Marina Dock Master, who became our guide, friend, ¬†and confidant. ¬†In the evenings he held court on his boat, “Passages,” telling stories of tides, time, and fishing tournaments.

The next morning Ed and I used the marina bicycles and rode throughout the historic district of Ortega. It was stunning! Oak trees and mansions the size of dinosaurs filled the landscape. Ortega got its start in 1769 so history includes many tales. I enjoyed seeing that Florida has many live oak trees that can compete with our northern neighbors. Breathtakingly beautiful trees, branches to the ground! Almost back at the marina, we visited nearby classic¬†Chamblin Bookmine, Highway 17 – wonderful to browse for hours as most in Stuart are now long gone. After a final cool down and walk to Publix where we met displaced Canadian Geese¬†searching for last year’s wetlands, Ed and I ¬†visited again with Captian Paul. I informed him I had researched and found out the beautiful flowers growing in the Ortega Marina were swamp lilies; ¬†we were already fast friends even though I was a “tree hugger.” Ed was looking to Paul as a mentor. Planning for tomorrow, we ¬†talked tides and weather figuring out our departure.

Night fell. Ed and I slept like babies with the sound of the train echoing in the distance. I dreamt about Henry Flagler, riverboats, and Canadian Geese. I was excited about our next stop, September 8: Palatka.

 

 

Understanding NEPA; EIS; and NAGPRA–Brevard Museum, Indian River Lagoon

Brevard Museum Director, Patty Meyers and I stand before a pioneer display. (8-5-15.)
Brevard Museum Director, Patty Meyers and I stand before a pioneer display. (8-5-15.)
Brevard Museum location in Brevard County. Google maps.
Brevard Museum location in Brevard County. Google maps.

My recent trip to Brevard County allowed me after thirty-three years to reconnect with Patty Meyers, a classmate from Martin County High School. ¬†We both are “Tigers–Class of 1982!” Patty is now the director of the Brevard Museum in Cocoa. This trip helped me to understand NEPA, EISes, NAGPRA and other acronyms that give me a headache, but are good to know as they protect not only native peoples but the environment….I will try to tell a story to explain these acronyms and how they function.

-NEPA: NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT; EIS: ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT; NAGPRA: NATIVE AMERICAN GRAVES PROTECTION AND REPATRIATION ACT.

As you have probably read, a lot is going on in Cocoa and Brevard County. Highway 528 was given as an easement by the state to “All Aboard Florida” from Orlando’s ¬†Airport ¬†to Port Canaveral (going over parts of the Indian River Lagoon); Port Canaveral will be expanded and deepened to meet the pressures of the Panama Canal; the Banana River lost 87% of its seagrasses between 2011 and 2013 and was connected to the UMEs or Unexplained Mortality Events of manatees, dolphins and pelicans near Melbourne; and NASA’s space industry is considering inviting a state-run commercial space market into its once “off-limits” Wildlife Refuge, as it is remaking itself…

WHEW! Can you say IMPACT? One way to understand impacts is to study the past….

Brevard Museum with Indian River Lagoon timeline. (JTL)
Brevard Museum with Indian River Lagoon timeline. (JTL)

The Brevard Museum features multiple aspects ¬†of the “Brevard story” along the Indian River Lagoon: its native peoples, the pioneers, Merritt Island’s famed “Indian River Lagoon Citrus,” and the space program’s evolution at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral.

What stood out for me once I got there was realizing I had been there before with my husband Ed in 2005 to see the Windover Archeological site display. If this site were discovered today, there would be more protections in place…it is part of protecting the environment. Let me explain.

Windover, one of the most important archeological sites in North America, was discovered in 1984 while a contractor was building a subdivision in Titusville.  He stopped construction and even donated to help unearth the area. The remains of over 200 ancient people were unearthed and proved to be 7000-8000 years old!

The people had been interred in a bog and were “perfectly” preserved and many contained in tact brain tissue. Being able to study this on such a scale was a first.

Studying the site revealed the people were exceptionally skilled tool makers and hunters, moved with the seasons between the St Johns and Indian Rivers, and that they were a compassionate people caring for their elderly and young, and ritually/religiously burying their dead. They were not the “savages” that had often been portrayed in years past and they were thousands of years older than expected.

This site changed the world of archeology. As wonderful a discovery as it was, how would you feel if those people were your ancestors? Aren’t graves sacred ground?

(http://nbbd.com/godo/BrevardMuseum/WindoverPeople/index.html)

While Patty and I were having lunch, she told that in 1990 after the Windover site was discovered in 1984, a law called NAGPRA was enacted. NAGPRA stands for the “Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act” and is a United States federal law which falls under NEPA….

We know NEPA from our Treasure Coast fight with All Aboard Florida…

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was enacted in 1969, one of many legislative and executive responses to growing concern about the condition of the environment and about what human actions were doing to it. NEPA does two major things. First, it establishes¬†national policy¬†(U.S. government policy under NEPA) regarding the environment. Second, NEPA requires that agencies prepare a “detailed statement” of the environmental impacts of any “major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” (This “detailed statement” is known as an¬†Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).¬†This “detailed statement” requires federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding to return Native American “cultural items” to lineal descendants and culturally affiliated Indian tribes . While these provisions do not apply to discoveries or excavations on private or state lands, the collection provisions of the Act may apply to Native American cultural items if they come under the control of an institution that receives federal funding. (–NAGPRA website)

So if Windover or a site anything like it were discovered or exists today, Native People would have a say in what happened to their ancestors and the site of their ancestors, should they wish….After studied, their ancestors would not be sitting on a shelf in Tallahassee…They would be reburied.

NAGPRA is part of NEPA and an EIS. —NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT; ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT; NATIVE AMERICAN GRAVES PROTECTION AND REPATRIATION ACT.

Familiarity with these laws is really the only hope for our government not to mow down every sacred site, burial ground, and haven for endangered and protected species along our Indian River Lagoon Region. These laws apply right now to All Aboard Florida, Port Canaveral, and NASA’s and the state’s potential impact in the Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River of the Indian River Lagoon, and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.¬†

Without these laws it would be like pioneer times, rough and wild with “no laws.” The “environment” and the people who once lived in harmony with it would basically have no protections.

NEPA, EIS and NAGPRA are “letters” all River Warriors should know!

NEPA: (https://ceq.doe.gov)
EIS: (https://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/projdev/docueis.asp)
NAGPRA (http://www.nps.gov/nagpra/) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_Graves_Protection_and_Repatriation_Act)

Brevard Museum:(http://myfloridahistory.org/brevardmuseum)

Port St Lucie was a Swamp? Really? St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Topographical map, courtesy of Todd Thurlow.
Topographical 1823 U.S. Army map, courtesy of Todd Thurlow.
Map overlay with I-95 and Turnpike. (Todd Thurlow)
Map in transition/overlay showing today’s ¬†I-95 and Turnpike in yellow. (Todd Thurlow)

Link to short video journey showing the former swamp “Alpatiokee” juxtaposed to today’s agriculture and development– Post St Lucie and western Martin County,

The first map in the video is a 1823 U.S. Army Map showing “Al-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp,” as it was known. The second is a 1846 map by Bruff. We then fly in to view Green Ridge, and the ridge just east of Indiantown. Next, we then overlay the 1983 Topo maps to view Green Ridge again, fly up, and around, Ten-mile Creek, and then back down the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. —-Todd Thurlow

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2f-e0ul1mY&feature=youtu.be)

__________________________________________

 

Not only was the city of Port St Lucie a swamp, but western Martin County was too. Please view the above video and “see” for yourself! It must have been a fabulous place, now long gone, know as “Alpatiokee,” or “Halpatiokee Swamp.”

Meaning “alligator waters” by the Seminoles, these lands/waterways were traversed for centuries in hand-made canoes. The native people and the Seminoles traveled many miles through the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and during rainy season they could travel all the way up into the St Johns River. How? Because these lands, when flooded, were “connected.” Now they are not only no longer connected but water that flowed north into the St John’s flows south into the St Lucie River….

Back to Port St Lucie…..

Recently, I kept noticing that the 1856 “Everglades” Military Map I like so much showed an expansive swamp close to where Port St Lucie and western Martin County are located today.

“This is weird,” I thought. ¬†“What happened to the old swamp?”

So, I contacted my brother, Todd, who loves maps and can combine them together with technology. (See link/video above.)

Below you’ll find an edited version of Todd’s notes to me.

I find all of this absolutely fascinating, and sometimes a bit unsettling….The natural ridges in the land we seem to ignore; how we blew canals through them; how the water USED to flow; how humans have developed and built agricultural empires, and changed everything….Maybe one day with visual tools like these, future land planners, and water district employees can change back some of our landscape to it’s former glory, and maybe even return a few gators to the landscape, since it’s named after them.

That would be nice, something more to look at while driving the Turnpike than “concrete.” ūüôā

Alligator resting but always alert....(Public photo.)
Halpatiokee or Alpatiokee translates as ¬†“alligator water” in the Seminole language. (Public photo.)

———————-

TODD’S NOTES REGARDING VIDEO:

THE OLD MAPS:¬†The old maps are not necessarily accurate, but they give an idea… They show basically what was known as the “Hal-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp.” ¬†On some other maps it is labeled the “Al-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp.” On almost all old maps, it would cover the area that is labeled Allapattah Flats on the modern topographical maps — but Hal-pa-ti-o-kee was probably more to the east.

———————-

Google Earth image 2015, Todd Thurlow.
Google Earth image 2015, Todd Thurlow.

TOPOGRAPHY AND RIDGES: There are two distinct ridges in western Martin County. Green Ridge is about 4.6 miles west of the turnpike, (12.5 miles west of the ocean), and can be seen on aerials. The western edge of Allapattah flats is a ridge where the elevation goes quickly from about 30 fee to 40 feet. This ridge (an obvious ancient ocean shoreline) can be seen running all the way to Cape Canaveral parallel to the coast. This ridge is about 12.5 miles west of the turnpike (20 miles from the ocean). Indiantown sits on the high side of the ridge. This Hal-pa-ti-o-kee Swamp on those old maps would be the we area east of the Indiantown ridge Рso it is basically all of western Martin and St. Lucie County.

FORMER WATER FLOW: Probably everything east of the Green Ridge flowed east into the St. Lucie. Everything between the two ridges flowed north to the St. Johns watershed and everything West of the Indiantown ridge (not much) flowed west into Lake Okeechobee via the little creeks on the east bank of the

….Somewhere between the St. Johns and the St. Lucie so everything between the two ridges, but north of that point, went north to the St. Johns River. Everything south would have gotten picked up by Ten-mile creek in the extreme North Fork of the St. Lucie River, which actually flowed north-east before turning back south to the St. Lucie.

CONCLUSION: There are academics that would know this stuff for sure and all the proper names. These ridges are like little continental divides, separating water flows into separate directions like the Rocky Mountains. When they busted all these canals through the ridges they changed the direction of all the water flows from mostly north/south to east/west. But that was the goal — get it to sea level as quickly as possible and drain the swamps…

—Todd Thurlow, Thurlow and Thurlow, PA (http://thurlowpa.com)

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…