Natural Resources Preservation
In 1947 the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, the predecessor of the
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, purchased 52,000 acres from the Southern States Land and Timber Company and named it J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area after James Wiley Corbett, a former commissioner. In the 1960s, miles of new canals surrounded the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area and stopped water from flowing into the Everglades, changing the composition of the natural ecosystems.
A smaller but important area was set aside in 1951 under the authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. The Hillsboro Marsh—221 square miles of the Everglades between 20-Mile Bend and the Broward County line—was established as the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Accessed west of Boynton Beach, it is managed by the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge includes 145,800 acres of the most northern remnant of the historic Everglades wetland ecosystem, and one of three water conservation areas in south Florida; it is maintained as water storage, flood control, and habitat for native fish and wildlife.
Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge was later named for ecologist Arthur R. Marshall, Jr. (1919-1985), who became the father of Florida’s environmental movement. Marshall, who moved to West Palm Beach at age six, spent 15 years as a biologist and administrator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, then a professor and administrator at the University of Miami, and then a visiting professor at the University of Florida.
With Marjory Stoneman Douglas, “First Lady of the Everglades,” Marshall defeated projects that would have threatened the wetlands. Douglas wrote of Marshall, “Although my phrase ‘River of Grass’ [title of her 1947 book] first awakened people to the notion of the Everglades as a river, it was Art Marshall who filled in all the blanks…. More than any other person, he stretched our idea of the Everglades and how we are connected.”
One remnant of the historic Everglades remained pristine because it was used for drinking water. In the early 1890s, Henry Morrison Flagler purchased about 20 square miles of wetlands to supply drinking water to Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. The City of West Palm Beach purchased the property from the Flagler Water Systems Company in 1955, and a Special Act of the Florida Legislature in 1964 protected it as a water supply. Today the wetlands provide the drinking water for Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, and South Palm Beach and are known as the City of West Palm Beach Water Catchment Area, or Grassy Waters Preserve. They are situated roughly from Northlake to Okeechobee Boulevard between Florida’s Turnpike and Royal Palm Beach Boulevard.
The Loxahatchee Slough, which runs north and south through the preserve, was the headwaters for the Everglades and the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter. The slough is one of the largest island refuges of undisturbed wetlands in Palm Beach County.
While Flagler interests still owned the property, in the 1930s, the M-Canal was built to connect Grassy Waters to Lake Mangonia and Clear Lake to the east. Dikes were added on the east and south borders of the preserve in the 1940s to control water levels. In the 1950s, the M-Canal was extended westward to Lake Okeechobee. More dikes were built on the western border during the 1960s and 1970s. Northlake Boulevard provides control in the northern end. Public access on the north and south sides of the road lead to nature centers, a boardwalk, and other areas used for education and recreation.
After two hurricanes in October 1947, south Florida experienced the worst flooding in its history, mostly in subdivisions west of what is now I-95. Less than two years later, another hurricane did substantial damage on August 26, 1949. Hurricanes were not named in the ‘40s, but in 1964, “Cleo” caused $50 million damage in Palm Beach County.
Florida hurricanes are expected, but on January 19, 1977, history was made when snow was recorded for the first time in West Palm Beach.