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A Citizen's Guide to Smarter Growth in Palm Beach County

A Citizen's Guide to Smarter Growth in Palm Beach County

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Published by: Choctawhatchee Audubon Society on Aug 19, 2010
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08/19/2010

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Challenges andOpportunities
S
preading over 2,000 square miles, Palm Beach County is larger than the state of Rhode Island. With a population topping one million, it isone of the fastest growing areas in the United States. Although many of thoseresidents live in one of its 37 municipalities, almost half (48 percent) live inthe county’s unincorporated areas.Palm Beach County also is one of the fastest growing areas in Florida.More than 350,000 new residents are anticipated by 2020. If current trendscontinue, more than 85 percent of these new residents will settle west of I-95,
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on what is now some of the county’s prime rural and agricultural acreageand wetlands. This growth will continue having significant impacts on our citizens, the natural environment, and the local economy.How can Palm Beach County deal with this growth while protecting andrestoring its rich environment, strengthening its economy, and improving thequality of life for all of its residents?What seems an insurmountable task
is
possible. Palm Beach County
can
move in a positive direction. This handbook will show how each of us, asresidents of Palm Beach County, can help ensure that this happens.
 
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F
rom the Atlantic Ocean, across the Intracoastal Water-way to the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, and on into thegreater Everglades ecosystem, Palm Beach County is
A Rich and Varied
blessed with a rich and beneficial environment, includingareas that are especially environmentally sensitive. The area’snatural beauty, recreational opportunities, and economy arelargely dependent on these abundant resources. South Floridaand the Sahara Desert are at the same latitude–the differenceis that we receive 60 inches of rain each year. Tourism, whichdelivers $1.5 billion annually to the local economy, benefitsdirectly from a healthy environment, one that provides cleanwater, pure air, and beautiful beaches and natural areas.
Reprinted with permission of the artist.
 
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Environment
A Magical Place
P
alm Beach County was once quitedifferent than it is today. TheEverglades encompassed muchmore of its area. Early Seminole andMiccosukee peoples could push their long dugout canoes across the Evergladesto what is now the Amtrak Station in WestPalm Beach. Continuing their journey onland, they would cross the Ridge to whatis now Lake Worth.An 1848 account describes theEverglades as a magical place of “pro-found and wild solitude.” It seems thatnot much had changed 90 years later inthis
WPA Guide to Florida
description of the lush Everglades in Palm BeachCounty:
One County—ManyEnvironments
T
oday, the Everglades is confined tothe western portion of Palm BeachCounty. This large county hasseveral distinct regions, each with its ownunique environmental features.
The Treasure Coast.
Closer to theGulf Stream than any place on the eastcoast of the United States, Palm BeachCounty boasts 45 miles of coastline andtwo barrier islands. The Treasure Coast,considered a world class diving location, isa haven for tourists, who help support itsmany hotels, motels, and restaurants. TheJohn D. MacArthur State Park on Singer Island, with almost a mile and a half of coastal maritime hammock and goldenbeach, hints at what the area looked likebefore it was settled by Europeans.Between these barrier islands and themainland is the Intracoastal Waterway,running north as far as Maine. Locally, amajor portion of the Intracoastal comprisesthe Lake Worth Lagoon, a saltwater estuaryspreading from North Palm Beach toLantana that is a valuable recreational andcommercial asset. Northern Palm BeachCounty is home to the pristine estuarineenvironments of Jupiter Sound and theLoxahatchee River, both now designated asstate aquatic preserves.
The Ridge.
 
Just a few miles wide,the Atlantic Coastal Ridge was theprehistoric shoreline. Higher in elevationthan the rest of the county, the Ridge isbetter protected from hurricane stormsurges and has been a perenniallyattractive area for development. HenryFlagler laid his railroad on the Ridge tokeep it out of the “swamps” and reduce theHere, far as the eye can see, theflatlands are carpeted with wavingsawgrass, of the sedge or bullrushfamily, with long folded leaves edgedwith sharp teeth. Pale green in summer,brown in the dry season, the grassthrusts up a tall stalk, topped withpanicles of brownish flowers . . . Smallanimals find refuge in the undergrowthalong the roadside; rabbits vanish atthe approach of automobiles, butbolder field rats stand still and cocktheir heads at passers-by, scurrying for cover only when a car stops. In winter months mallards, blue bills, canvasbacks, and other migratory waterfowlflock to the Everglades, a vast film of water dotted with miragelike ham-mocks of cypress and palmetto. Duringthe summer rainy season the water often rises as much as 6 feet, but atother times its depth is from 3 inches to3 feet.
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