On a spectacular Sunday afternoon in January, 2011, Audubon of Martin County dedicated the newly created wetland at Clifton “Possum” Long Nature Preserve. While adding to the beauty of the property the practical purpose is to drain rain water from one of the oldest neighborhoods in Stuart. Known as a “Retrofit Project”, it carried a quarter of a million dollar price tag and was funded by a $125,000.00 matching grant from the South Florida Water Management District. Audubon of Martin County raised the matching funds thru a combination of 4,000 hours of labor, volunteered by the members and the general public, equaling $65,000.00 and the balance in cash.
Today the wetland not only drains rainwater but is home to a pair of nesting Osprey, named Bonnie & Clyde by the school children who participate in Young Audubon’s “My Favorite Bird” Essay & Art Contest held each spring. But this is only the most recent conservation project undertaken by Audubon of Martin County (AOMC).
Audubon of Martin County was founded in January of 1955, at the Port Sewell home of Mr. & Mr. S. F. Stephenson. They established the chapter’s principal objective as, “The conservation and wise use of America’s natural resources.” By March 10th (42 days) Martin County Audubon Society, the original name, had grown to 160 members. John Baker, President of the National Audubon Society, attended the March meeting to congratulate the chapter for being the fastest growing Chapter in the shortest time of any Chapter in Florida’s history. Chapter President Twyman offered a Resolution of Congratulations to Mrs. Van Alan Clark, of Jupiter Island, for gathering 60 members. The stellar Chapter spent the next several years raising funds to pursue the mission of conservation. By 1964 the Chapter was positioned for the next step.
In March of 1964 the Reed family of Jupiter Island, thru their Hobe Sound Company, conveyed 4,290 feet of Jupiter Island oceanfront encompassing 123 acres, known as the Reed Wilderness Seashore, to the Florida Audubon Society who immediately turned over the management responsibilities to Martin County Audubon. Charles Bacheller was appointed by the chapter as the first ranger. In 1967 the Wilderness Seashore was granted the National Natural Landmark designation by the Department of the Interior, the first site in Florida to receive the designation. On March 28, 1970, the formal dedication was held; it turned over the Wilderness Seashore to the federal government and is known today as the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge.
From July, 1973, through 1983, the chapter purchased parcels of land between Palm Beach Road and Hibiscus Ave. in Stuart totaling 4.7 acres. The jewel of the parcels had been owned by Clifton Long, a Martin County High School Agricultural teacher who was listed in Who’s Who of American Colleges & Universities, a graduate of the Officers Training school at the Naval Academy in Annapolis and for whom the football field at Martin County High had been named. In 1973, Juanita Prine, his daughter, conveyed the property and home to the chapter with the stipulation that the property by held in perpetuity as a nature preserve and named in her father’s honor. The house still stands on the Clifton “Possum” Long Nature Preserve property and can be seen from Hibiscus Ave where the Garden Club of Stuart maintains the gardens immediately surrounding the house.
An adjoining parcel, known as “Button Hill”, was purchased from Frank & Margaret Button in 1973. Over the years the house was ravaged by storms and hurricanes and was demolished in 2008. Audubon House is on Palm Beach Road at the corner of 7th Avenue and is the chapter’s office and the location of the Board of Directors and the chapter’s various committee meetings. A photo of the house is prominently featured at The Camp Murphy Museum in Jonathan Dickenson State Park as a classic example of the frame vernacular building style used by the Army at the secret World War II training facility for the Signal Corps, known as Camp Murphy. The Camp existed between 1942 and 1944 in part of, what is now, Jonathan Dickenson State Park. In 1946 the Army sold off the buildings, in whole or part. A substantial part of Audubon House was salvaged from Camp Murphy and is treasured by the chapter as a classic piece of Martin County history.
In 2013 AOMC agreed to oversee public access to the 2,600 acre Lakeside Ranch Storm Water Treatment Area managed by the South Florida Water Management District. This facility utilizes natural wetlands to clean the water flowing south from the Kissimmee River into Lake Okeechobee. In so doing, it forms a vital step in restoring the quality of water flowing out from Lake Okeechobee during the rainy season.
Hopefully, Mr. & Mrs. Stephenson, President John Baker, President Twyman, Mrs. Van Alan Clark, The Reed Family, Charles Bacheller, Clifton Long, The Buttons and all those that followed over these sixty years would be very proud of Audubon of Martin County and all it has accomplished since that initial meeting in a home in Port Sewell in January of 1955.