Preserving Old Florida


Bicyclists pedal their way on the path around the lake during a previous year’s annual Bonfire & Hayride event. The 2018 event is slated for Saturday, Feb. 3. CITY OF PORT ST. LUCIE

City expands recreational park to accommodate campers, RVs


Silence. Tranquility. Solitude. The McCarty Ranch Preserve, an outlying Port St. Lucie city recreation area, is truly a quiet, beautiful place far from the madding crowd.

The 3,000-acre property purchased in 2012 and annexed into the city of Port St. Lucie in 2014 is a slice of old Florida with piney woods, cabbage palm patches and three lakes named for the three McCarty brothers: Lake John, Lake Daniel and Lake Brian.

The history attached to the preserve goes back to the days when pineapples were king and Charles Tobin (known as C.T.) McCarty moved to St. Lucie County in the 1880s to farm them. The McCarty family expanded their farming to include citrus and then expanded to cattle ranching at this western site. C.T.’s grandson, Daniel T. McCarty, was a state legislator and former state governor. Dan’s brother, John, was a longtime state legislator.

Although the ranch and an adjacent parcel (totaling more than 5,000 acres) were purchased to secure property for water storage and a future water treatment plant, the preserve was kept in its pristine condition as a passive recreation area for residents. There is a boat and canoe launch area and fishing is permitted. There are nature trails for walking and bicycling as well as a disc golf game setup. There are many signs, adorned with a sketch of an alligator, warning that there is no swimming permitted in the lakes.

The city added bathrooms and showering facilities (which follow ADA guidelines) that facilitated the newest expansion of offerings at the preserve: camping. The city has provided six primitive RV trailer sites, each of which has a lantern hook, a picnic table and a fire ring with a foldable grill. Also built among a thick patch of cabbage palmettos are 13 primitive campsites. Separated from each other by clusters of the palms, which accord a bit of privacy, the campsites each feature a picnic table and the fire ring with a foldable grill.

To get there, you might need a GPS (the address for the preserve is 12525 Range Line Road in Port St. Lucie) as the preserve is a bit off the beaten track.

Mayor Greg Oravec is quite excited about this recreational opportunity. Despite the drive, he expressed hope that residents and visitors would continue to discover the preserve. “The beauty of the park is that it is a getaway,” Oravec said. “I have seen a lot of out-of-state plates when I have gone there,” adding that he thinks the new camping areas will draw more visitors and residents to it.

“The land is a piece of Old Florida,” he said. “And while the master plan won’t be complete until the end of 2018, we know that the unspoiled pieces are going to stay that way for the benefit of all in perpetuity.”

Although kayaks and canoes are the preferred mode of transit on the lakes, a permit can be obtained from the city’s utility systems department for a boat with one small electric motor. And while fishing is allowed from the shore or out on the water, all those 16 and older must have a valid Florida fishing permit. No wading is permitted in the lakes and kayaks and canoes are permitted in designated areas only, so preserve visitors are asked to read the signs that dot the campground and follow any guidelines as printed.

Along with the alligator warnings, visitors should also be aware that they are in a natural area and might encounter snakes, bobcats, panthers, feral hogs and other Florida wildlife during their time at this environmentally-sensitive park.

Joggers and hikers are warned that the terrain is natural. This means that it is uneven in places and muddy in others. Visitors ride, walk, park, bicycle and horseback ride at their own risk, according to the preserve’s website. Domestic pets must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet and dogs must have a current rabies vaccination. And, for the bicyclists, Florida statutes indicate helmets are required for cyclists younger than 16, as well as for equestrians younger than 16. For safety reasons, the site recommends riders of all ages wear appropriate safety gear.

There are no fireworks allowed at the preserve for obvious reasons and bonfires or barbecues are not permitted without a camping reservation. Reservations for the camping and RV sites can be made at the Port St. Lucie Community Center, 2195 SE Airoso Blvd. Tent sites are $20 per night, while RV sites are $23 per night. Spots can be reserved for up to 14 nights in the tent sites and 30 days at the RV spots.

Visitors are asked to not litter the preserve, nor to disturb any of the native flora and fauna. To keep the noise level down, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), dirt bikes and other off-the-road/recreational vehicles are not welcome. In keeping with the preservation of the native wildlife, hunting and archery are not permitted.

The city’s annual hayride and bonfire event at the preserve is slated from 3 to 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 3. There will be live music, a fishing tournament, kayaking, pony rides, hiking and disc golf games, in addition to the hayrides and the bonfire. The event will provide residents with exposure to the natural beauty of the preserve.

As the city expands westward, Oravec said, roads will be built and there most likely will be a speedier access to the preserve, but at present, it remains a quiet drive through the Old Florida countryside.

If you go ...

What: McCarty Ranch Preserve
Where: 12525 Range Line Rd., Port St, Lucie
  • Boat and canoe launch
  • Camping/RV sites
  • Fishing (with permit)
  • Nature trails
  • Restrooms and showers
  • Undeveloped, open-space park
  • Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset, daily; except for campers