Ghosts of Watersheds Past

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Intro - History around us

And why its important to remember

By Robert V. Sobczak

It's easy to get lost in the moment ...

And all but forget about the past.

But the watershed we see today wasn't the same watershed of the past, at least not completely, and in many cases hardly at all. I was recently watching a movie from the 1980s with my sons. At about the midway point, I pointed out: "Do you know the one thing the characters don't have?" Phones, I said. Phones. For as modern as the movie seemed, it may have been the most mind blowing part of the whole movie, in retrospect.

The same goes for our watersheds. Looking back is a way to put the present in perspective and make it more relevant, and interesting.

Recent blog posts

Major tourist draw?
And why it's bigger than it looks

It may not look like much …

At least at first glance.

Ochopee is home of the world’s smallest post office

And really there’s not much of a view …

Now that Brazilian Pepper has boxed it in.

And possibly the most photographed. But why?

But believe it or not, the rather non-descript shack is one of the swamp’s biggest visitor draws, even bigger than Monroe Station before it burned down. I’m often left to wonder why. Maybe its small size makes it easy to photograph, and photograph it people do. By the hundreds. Maybe even more than Naples Pier. Well, maybe not that much. But a lot. Which is all the more perplexing because its a very claustrophobic spot, surrounded by a rather unsightly and impenetrable thicket in back, at an odd bend in the Tamiami Trail in close proximity to tractor trailers rumbling past, and on an uneven gravel parking lot. Yet there they are, tour bus after tour bus unloading passengers to line up one after the other, sometimes in groups, to take a photograph almost as if it were the Statue of Liberty or some other national spot of acclaim. Important detail: It doesn’t even have restrooms!

More about the building: It has a hydrologic pedigree. It was previously a pump house for the farm field in back. When a fire burned down original building to the ground in 1943, the pump house was brought in as a makeshift fix. Eighty years later its still there.

To me it’s one of the great mysteries of the swamp. Other similarly small post offices scattered throughout the swamp were closed down without fan far. Why this one has both withstood the test of time and remained such a popular destination eludes me every time I drive by. Only gators rival the post office for being more photographed. And yes, the cypress trees are jealous!

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Trivia: Ochopee Post Office is 61.3 square feet, or about 6′ x 10′.

Heaven or graveyard?
Or is it a graveyard?

While water control structures don’t live forever.

The good ones do go to Hydraulic Heaven.

Can you see the living water control structure in the background? It’s the S-3

Where exactly is hydraulic heaven? It’s located in John Stretch Park in Hendry County just up against the levee on the south side of Lake Okeechobee. I happened upon the park by accident, as did perhaps these relic water management pumps. The more usual fate for old parts big and small is to end up being scrapped or going to the junk yard. What good fortune factored helping these particular pumps making it to hydraulic heaven is anyone’s guess. Probably luck. Or maybe they were especially good structures at keeping everyone safe from flooding, or somehow else saving the day, and so were rewarded by being put on display in John Stretch Park for eternity. Well, maybe not eternity. Several years later I returned to the park. The paint that looks so shiny in these photos had long since faded and started to cracked. As an engineer by training, it made me think about my own mortality. No matter how useful we are in our day, we all have a shelf life.

Is it a graveyard or a hydraulic heaven? What I can say is it’s only a park an engineer could love.

End of the road?
Long walk off a short pier

Naples pier seems like a short enough walk:

Just a thousand feet more and it comes to an end.

Naples Pier is a historical landmark

But, in the time before roads, that’s where the journey just began.

The only way in and out of Naples was by boat.

That made Naples Pier more a beginning than an end.

Swamp buggy parade
A south Florida tradition

Everyone loves a parade, right?

In early November there’s a big one in Naples.

The first swamp buggy of Naples?

The parade is an annual tradition in Naples, FL.  Held every fall, it serves as a local reminder that good outdoor weather (after the stormy summer stretch) has finally arrived. (Caveat: we’re still waiting for it this year.) Of course it’s not riding a swamp buggy on asphalt, but getting it tire deep in water out in the woods that that has local hunters and outdoorsman and women moving into high gear.

Or in other words, time to get the buggy out of the garage!

Historical sign from Collier County Museum

Here’s more information on swamp buggies …

Including the difference between a Glades and Palm Beach buggy, for all you swamp buggy connoisseur out there.