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Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Posted on Monday, August 10, 2015 at 10:57 am


By Greg Braun


dickinsonNestled as a gateway between the megalopolis of southeast Florida and the less-intensively developed Treasure Coast, 11,500-acre Jonathan Dickinson State Park (JDSP) provides easy access for nature and history enthusiasts. Named after a survivor of a 1696 hurricane-related shipwreck in the area, Jonathan Dickinson has evolved into an environmentally valuable mosaic of natural communities that provide habitat for over 150 species of birds and 35 species of threatened and endangered species.

Attractions of the park are as varied as the personalities of its visitors: birders who appreciate the largest population of Florida Scrub-Jays in SE Florida; canoeists and kayakers who explore miles of the Loxahatchee River (Florida’s first federally designated Wild and Scenic River); hikers, equestrians and off-road bicyclists who enjoy dozens of miles of mixed-use trails; campers who use backcounty, full-service campsites or rental cabins; historians interested in the site’s use as Camp Murphy—a WW II military training camp or Trapper Nelson’s camp; native plant enthusiasts in search of rarities such as the federally-endangered four-petal pawpaw and dancing lady orchids; and wildlife watchers who enjoy seeing and photographing bald eagles, river otters, colorful lubber grasshoppers and butterflies.

The park’s stewardship of fire-dependent sand pine scrub and pine flatwoods communities is constantly tested by challenges to manage fire in an increasingly wildland-urban interface. With I-95 and the Florida Turnpike bordering the park’s western boundary, highly-travelled US-1 serving as the park’s eastern boundary, and residential development to the north and south, the need for precise smoke management makes conducting fire prescriptions a complex and strategic combination of weather, fuel loads and public relations.

To visitors though, the fruits of these burns are self-evident—the bright new re-growth of wiregrass, saw palmetto, rosemary, and vibrant blooms of meadow beauty, grass-pink orchids and coreopsis.

The 4.2-mile Park Drive leads visitors through a cross-section of several of the natural communities of the park—from sand pine scrub near the entrance (on the west side of US 1 between Jupiter and Hobe Sound), through pine flatwoods, across cypress-dominated wetland strands, around shallow, seasonally-flooded depression marsh wetlands to the Loxahatchee River frontage and the recently-opened Elsa Kimbell Education Center. The excursion may take 10 minutes for motorists, a half-hour for bicyclists, two days for backpackers, or untold hours for birders, plant enthusiasts and photographers.

Ecologically, Jonathan Dickinson State Park’s value is evidenced by detailed investigations into local populations of flora and fauna. As fledglings from the first bald eagle nest documented in Martin County in the late 1970s have returned to raise future generations, the eagle population has now grown to over a dozen nests in the County—a tribute to a combination of the tenacity and adaptability of the species, the protections of the Endangered Species Act and Martin County’s well-earned reputation for habitat preservation and strong commitment to protecting the urban services boundary.

In these financially-challenging and uncertain times, Audubon members and our partners, including the Friends of Jonathan Dickinson State Park and the governmental and NGO partners on the Loxahatchee River Management Coordinating Council, remain vigilant in the need to advocate for environmentally-conscious management—as exemplified by the public outcry that was necessary to thwart a recent legislative attempt to site a golf course, resort and RV park at JDSPg Braun is a professional avian and estuarine ecologist and environmental advocate who has taught Bird ID courses and led field trips at Jonathan Dickinson and was the principal author of Martin County’s Manatee Protection Plan. For more information about Jonathan Dickinson State Park see For more about Audubon Florida and its “Special Places” program visit All rights reserved by Florida Audubon Society, Inc.