Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
Refuge Details
Size: 143,874 acres Features: Sawgrass marsh Activities: Nature walks, hiking, canoeing, birdwatching, bass fishing

. . . Where the Everglades begin

Located within the northernmost part of the legendary Florida Everglades, Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee NWR is the only surviving remnant of the northern Everglades. The 143,874-acre refuge consists mostly of the sawgrass marsh that is so characteristic of the Everglades environment and is one of the few places where lucky observers might see the endangered snail kite searching for food.

The inviting public-use areas provide viewing opportunities for a large variety of wetland flora and fauna. Most visitors are unaware, however, of the difficult habitat problems faced by the refuge staff and the history of the attempts to undo the wildlife habitat damage that began in 1947.

Visitors should stop at the handsome Visitor Center for information and browse the retail shop operated by the Friends of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, the cooperating nonprofit association that finances projects to promote public awareness of the refuge.

Location: Northern everglades southwest of West Palm Beach, Florida.

Both the Cypress Swamp Boardwalk and marsh impoundments are accessible by foot from the Visitor Center. The boardwalk is a 0.4 mile trail that loops through one of the few remaining cypress swamps that once lined the edge of the Everglades where it met higher ground and is an ideal place to see ferns, orchids, and air plants. Limpkins can often be seen feeding in the ponds around the Visitor Center.

Walking the dikes around the several impoundments is how the refuge's variety of water birds may be observed along with some of the thousands of American alligators that inhabit the refuge. Depending on water levels, ibises, egrets, and herons regularly feed in them as well as sandhill cranes and ducks including migratory blue- and green-wing teal and ringnecked and resident mottled and wood ducks. The refuge bird list includes over 250 species.

The 5.5-mile canoe trail provides the best way to see and explore the Everglades up close. Canoeing and boating are allowed in refuge canals as is sport fishing, which is mostly catch-and-release of bass because of health warnings.

Hunting for waterfowl is allowed in a designated area by permit. Deer hunts and the use of air boats by hunters were steeped in controversy in the past, a public-use activity that is now prohibited at the refuge by an act of Congress.

Concessionaire air boats were also used in the past for interpretive tours of the refuge, a service discontinued primarily because of cost. Now according to refuge staff the only public use of refuge air boats is to haul out air balloons and aircraft that have emergency landed in the marsh. An airboat concession is located just to the south of the refuge on Lox Road.

Visitors between November and April will discover a wide array of scheduled events at the refuge including nature walks, photography workshops, lectures, and art contests and shows. Many of the events are staffed by some of the more than 100 refuge volunteers, who also perform maintenance services, work at the Visitor Center, and contribute clerical skills.

Friends of the Refuge
The value to a refuge of a cooperating association is demonstrated again by the record of the Friends group, set up in 1982 at the request of the refuge manager as the Loxahatchee Natural History Association. The name was changed in 2003 to the Friends of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. The Friends support the refuge in various ways; ongoing annual commitments include co-sponsoring the Everglades Day family festival in February, contributing to the Exhibit Maintenance Fund, and spreading the word about the refuge through their website, e-mail newsletter, Gator Tales newsletter and calendar. Special projects for the past year include the installation of new signs on the Cypress Swamp Boardwalk and enhancements to the canoe launch area, including a canoe storage structure, registration building and landscaping.

Protecting the Habitat
Cattails are just the tip of the iceberg of problems that face this refuge. Nutrients in the water are the culprit, bringing to the refuge nonnative vegetation that would otherwise not survive in the normally low-nutrient habitat.Neely says that, while cattails are the first visible sign of trouble to the nonscientist, they are the third or fourth symptom of change in the environment.

Degradation of the algal community has also occurred, reducing the invertebrates depended on by birds for food. The oxygen in the water has also suffered, depleting the fish supply. Infestation of the marshes by exotic Brazilian pepper and melaleuca makes it impenetrable to either humans or wildlife and requires expensive hand treatment for control.

The phosphate in the refuge waters comes from the fertilizer used by the adjacent $1.5 billion sugar industry. Nearly one-third of the water flow into the refuge is pumped from agricultural drainage. Rainwater runoff on which the refuge depends also picks up agricultural nutrients.

Refuge Management
The water levels in the refuge are maintained by a multipurpose agreement with the South Florida Water Management District. Besides wildlife management, the agreement calls for storage of water in the refuge during hurricane rains and for releases to irrigate croplands and to prevent saltwater intrusions into the local aquifer.

Virtually all of the refuge is an area leased from the state and compartmentalized with canals and dikes as one of three "water conservation areas." The areas comprise 850,000 acres of marshlands protected from development and designed to hold flood waters that can be used later for irrigation.

It is part of the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers beginning in 1947 and consisting of 1900 miles of canals and levees overlaying and replacing the upper portion of the "River of Grass." Now managed by the Water Management District, the massive project also includes 700,000 acres of drained wetlands in which the sugar industry is firmly established. As a result, both the quality and the quantity of water delivered to the remaining Everglades were set by political appointees on the board of the WMD. Previously, water came to the gently tilting Everglades as sheetflow from Lake Okeechobee as it seasonally overflowed.

Refuge Issues/Projects
Agriculturists, politicians, agency regulators, and environmentalists have been arguing in and out of court for years trying to somehow strike a better balance between the dryness needs of the economic interests and the water needs of the environment.

Although past settlements and agreements have given hope that the Everglades system could be restored, none has been as promising as the latest development. Simply put, it is supposed to clean up the agricultural runoff and reduce farmland water demand, improving both the quantity and the quality of water available to both the refuge and the rest of the remaining Everglades.

A $14 million demonstration project is showing that phosphorous can be removed from runoffs if wetlands are built where plants can uptake the nutrients before the water reaches its destination. As might be expected, cattails are the predominate filterer.

Refuge Named after Everglades Defender
Arthur Raymond Marshall, Jr., joined the small number of honored conservationists who have refuges named for them when the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge was renamed in 1986 to the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee NWR.

President Ronald Reagan enacted the authorizing legislation that was introduced by then-U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles. The Loxahatchee name comes from the river of the same Seminole Indian name.

"Art" Marshall worked at FWS in several capacities as a marine fisheries biologist for 15 years before teaching at two Florida universities and advising three Florida governors.

He is most remembered, however, for his expertise on the ecology of the Florida Everglades and his crusading opposition to its disruption. He was involved in virtually every significant environmental issue in south Florida up until his death in 1985.

Marshall campaigned against and was a leader in defeating the determined advocates of a proposal to build a jetport and to complete a barge canal in the Everglades. He lived in Florida for 49 years of his 65-year life.

But Marshall wanted more than anything else the restoration of the Everglades, and for that he espoused ridding the Kissimmee River that feeds the Everglades of its $40 million of constructed ditch.

His theory, dubbed "The Marshall Plan," was that the meandering natural state of the river produced a sheet flow of water that was necessary to help ensure an adequate water supply for the Everglades and south Florida.

He admitted to a friend that "no one really knew if Einstein was correct in his theory—not even he was absolutely certain of its validity—until that bomb went off at Alamogordo. My bomb is the Kissimmee ditch removed and the river restored."

Marshall would be happy to know that parts of the Kissimmee are now being dechannelized.

Many more people realize now what scientist Marshall theorized and promoted then: There is scientific basis for treating "the Everglades from Lake Kissimmee to the Florida Bay as a single ecosystem."

Among his many awards for environmental service was his naming by the Florida National Wildlife Federation as the "Conservationist of the Decade," an honor granted just months before his untimely death.

Directions to the Refuge
From I-95, west on US-98, south on US-441 for 14 miles to refuge entrance on right. Or, from I-95, FL-806 west, US-441 north for 2 miles to refuge entrance on left.

The Visitor Center is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The refuge is open every day from sunrise to sunset; entrance fee is $5 per automobile.

10216 Lee Road
Boynton Beach FL 33473

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 11 Jan 2013
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »