Friday, January 31, 2014

Land Management Review - Ft Pierce Inlet State Park

By Lynn Sweetay,  Palm Beach Chapter of F.N.P.S.

We met with representatives from various
organizations to review the park's management plan
A wonderfully sunny, cool Monday morning found me at my second land management review on the beach!  On January 13, I met with representatives from the Florida Park Service, DEP, FWC, Forestry, Soil and Water Conservation, South Florida Water management district, and other local government officials. Our purpose was to review the previous management plan written for Ft Pierce Inlet State Park and see if the park was meeting its management goals as written in 2006. Ft Pierce Inlet State Park is located on the North side of the Ft Pierce Inlet in St Lucie County just on the south tip of Hutchinson Island. The park is approximately 1140 acres including parts of the Indian River-Vero Beach Ft Pierce Aquatic preserve as well as Atlantic Ocean frontage. The five prevalent natural communities within the park are beach dune, maritime hammock, marine tidal swamp, estuarine grass bed and ruderal.

Sea oats, cabbage palms, and other natives
After introductions we jumped into assorted cars and trucks to tour the park. We drove through a huge parking area with plenty of parking spaces, passed several well kept pavilions for picnickers then stopped at the new bathhouse and walked a crushed coquina path to the beach. Blue sky, pristine sand and small whitecaps greeted us as we walked through the opening in the dunes. The dunes were covered with sea oats, beach sunflower, railroad vine and much more native vegetation with sea grape at the top of the primary dune. A group of terns was resting at the water's edge. This beach is a haven for sea turtles which are highly productive here due to the great beach conditions and the lack of nest-raiding raccoons. That's right - no raccoons in this park. It seems that early settlers in the area eradicated the raccoon population, probably to eliminate competition for sea turtle eggs. As cute as raccoons are it was kind of nice not to see any begging for handouts here.

The park was probably originally acquired due to the efforts of local surfers! Yes, this park boasts the best surfing beach in Florida and hosts surfing competitions. A few surfers were suiting up as we arrived on this Monday morning. The park is right next to The Navy Seal Museum and historically the park's Atlantic shoreline was utilized by the U.S. Navy for underwater demolition training during WW II.

Laurel wilt :(
Next our caravan moved across the parking lot to the maritime hammock trail. We could immediately see 3-5 large bay trees that were covered in brown leaves due to laurel wilt. According to the USDA Forest service, "Laurel wilt is a deadly disease of redbay (Persea borbonia) and other tree species in the Laurel family (Lauraceae). The disease is caused by a fungus (Raffaelea lauricola) that is introduced into host trees by a non-native insect, the redbay ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus). The fungus plugs the water-conducting cells of an affected tree and causes it to wilt. Laurel wilt has caused widespread and severe levels of redbay mortality in the southeastern coastal plain."  The park has taken a lead position in the state in treating redbay trees in the maritime hammock for laurel wilt. The use of macro injection of fungicide has saved about 50% of the bays in the hammock with young bay trees responding much better than older ones. Aside from our stop to watch the injection process, during which fungicide was basically pumped into the redbay trees’ roots, the maritime hammock trail was shady and made a very nice short hike.

Coinvine, Dalbergia ecastaphyllum
Photo by Walter K. Taylor
We moved on past the new enclosed playground area to the ruderal area. This area, recently burned, had been overgrown with coin vine (a nuisance native) and patches of Cogon grass (the new invasive in town for this park). We were able to see an area where the restoration of mangroves had improved the shoreline in the Indian River lagoon portion of the park. Black mangrove, white mangrove and buttonwood are present in the marine tidal swamp. Further back toward the lagoon is the park's Boy Scout camp. Between its state-of-the-art composting toilet, fire pit, and accessible tent site and pavilion, it is clearly one of the nicest I scout camps I’ve ever seen.

Surrounding the Indian River lagoon portion of the park are many mosquito impoundments. These are basically mangrove forests surrounded with earth dikes which can be artificially flooded during mosquito breeding season. Salt water mosquitoes will not lay eggs in standing water - they need moist soil.

Florida Manatees; photo by Paul Nicklen
Notable species seen in the park include Florida manatee (Federally-designated Endangered), osprey (State Species of Special Concern), gopher tortoise (State-designated Threatened) and sea turtles (Federally-designated Endangered) along with shorebirds of all types, otter and bobcat. We watched an osprey eating its catch and spotted 2 gopher tortoises just inside the gate.

This park offers fantastic recreational opportunities including, surfing, kayaking, swimming, canoeing, boating, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, picnicking and camping. We were impressed with the amount of parking and the number of picnic shelters as well as bathroom facilities. That which was missing was certainly not missed - we saw few exotic species, and the problematic feral cat population noted at the previous review was absent this time around.

The park has surfable waves and much more!
At least three of the reviewers had actually grown up in Ft Pierce and were very familiar with the area. They added a lot of very good background information and made the visit more interesting. After a great fresh fish lunch in Ft Pierce, we reconvened, completed our evaluation, and gave the park high marks for maintenance, exotic removal and treatment of redbays.

This is definitely a park worth visiting! Bring water and food as there is no concession in the park (it is in future plans) and of course your camera, surfboard and fishing gear.

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photos by Lynn Sweetay unless otherwise noted
posted and edited by Laurie Sheldon
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