The long wait to restore the Ocklawaha River continues. This documentary will help draw attention to the issue where a lot of taxpayer money goes to maintain Rodman dam. Another example where people have messed with nature and screwed it up.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Honor Marjorie Carr’s legacy: Free the Ocklawaha
By Peggy Macdonald
Special to The Sun
The winding Ocklawaha River flows north toward the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Johns River. The Timucuans used this ancient river for transportation and hunted and camped along its banks.
In 1936, when the 21-yearold scientist Marjorie Harris first encountered the Ocklawaha, its abundant flora and fauna remained relatively unchanged.
By sheer luck, the Ocklawaha lay mostly undisturbed for another three decades, dodging the massive development that accompanied Florida’s post-World War II population boom. This would all change in 1962, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reached the final stage of its plan to dam the river, a crucial step in the construction of the 107-mile Cross Florida Barge Canal, which would enable massive barges to travel across inland Florida between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
By the time she first heard about the Corps’ plan to dam the river, Marjorie Harris Carr was 47 and a mother of five children with her husband, Archie Carr, a world-renowned sea turtle conservation biologist. In 1969, Marjorie Carr co-founded Florida Defenders of the Environment (FDE), which developed an environmental impact statement that became a powerful weapon in its fight to preserve and restore the Ocklawaha.
The key to FDE’s success was the coalition of scientific, legal and economic experts who volunteered their services to the organization. Carr was the glue that held this coalition together. She harnessed the power of the activist science of ecology to convince politicians, the media and the public that a completed Cross Florida Barge Canal would be an economic fiasco and an environmental tragedy.
After a series of disappointing setbacks at the state level, she took the campaign to save the Ocklawaha to the national arena, presenting the scientific and economic argument against the canal to President Richard Nixon, who ultimately killed the canal.
Today, on the eve of what would have been Marjorie Carr’s 103rd birthday, the Ocklawaha remains blocked by a dam that serves no purpose, now that the Cross Florida Barge Canal is defunct. Underneath the dammed Ocklawaha River rests a collection of hidden springs. Every three or more years, these lost springs briefly come back to life during drawdowns, when the artificially high water levels at the dam’s impoundment are lowered for several months to kill aquatic weeds. At the end of each drawdown, the springs are flooded again.
“When I see the place where the lost springs used to exist, frequently nothing reveals their existence, not even a boil on the surface,” said Margaret Tolbert, the creative director of “Lost Springs,” in a March 18 email. Tolbert’s abstract expressionist paintings of the Ocklawaha’s lost springs are a central focus of the documentary. Through her art, Tolbert celebrates the rebirth of the springs and mourns their loss at the end of the most recent drawdown in 2016.
Director Matt Keene decided to make the “Lost Springs” documentary link freely available online after a final screening on Marjorie Carr’s birthday, March 26, at 6 p.m. at the Matheson History Museum. Members of the Carr family will cut an Ocklawaha-themed birthday cake in a special ceremony following the film screening. Karen Chadwick, a producer of “Lost Springs,” said the symbolic cake will “educake” the public about a proposed plan to restore the Ocklawaha.
In 1997, Marjorie Carr died at age 82. Although she did not live to see her beloved Ocklawaha restored to its pre-dam condition, she remained optimistic that one day the river would run free again. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of Rodman Dam. The time has come to correct this tragic mistake by freeing the Ocklawaha and its lost springs.
Peggy Macdonald is the author of “Marjorie Harris Carr: Defender of Florida’s Environment” (University Press of Florida, 2014) and executive director of the Matheson History Museum.