Exploring Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Cruising along the Loxahatchee River

Last month, my husband and I decided to take a three day getaway in our RV and camp at a Florida state park that we had not visited before. We selected Jonathan Dickinson State Park, on the east coast. The park was a leisurely three hour drive from Naples using Florida byways, heading northeast to the city of LaBelle with a lunch stop at LaBelle Brewing Company, a favorite of ours. Then continuing northeast around the shore of Lake Okeechobee we drove past miles of RV parks that crowded the Herbert Hoover dike that surrounds the lake. We split off from the lake and headed east along SR 714, the Martin Grade Scenic Highway, one of Florida’s Designated Scenic Highways until we reached I 95 and headed south to the Hobe Sound exit. A short time later we arrived at the park, with the entrance located on a series of sand dunes leading to woodlands and pine forests. The park features the highest point in Southeast Florida–Hobe Mountain with a height of 86 feet plus an observation tower that allows visitors to view across the Inter-coastal waterway  to the Atlantic Ocean.

The park started out as a military base known as Camp Murphy in 1942 and was used as a secret place to train the Navy signal corps on how to use radar. When the site was declared obsolete after two years,the government leveled the buildings of the camp and donated the land to the State of Florida in 1947. It became a state park in 1950, and was named after Jonathan Dickinson, a Quaker merchant from Port Royal, Jamaica who with his family and several slaves traveled on the Resolute, a part of a fleet that ran aground on a coral reef off Jupiter Inlet during what was believed to be a hurricane in 1696. The people on the boat managed to reach shore and were met by the Jobe (pronounced Ho-bay) Indians who after learning they were English spent an unpleasant experience on shore with them. They were finally allowed to escape with some rowing the ship’s boat and others walking slowly up the coast before meeting other shipwreck survivors of one of the sister ships at another settlement along the way. Eventually they met a group of Spanish boats, who managed to get them to St. Augustine. Given a canoe threy paddled the inland waters until they reached  Charles Town (now Charleston), SC before getting on a boat to Philadelphia, their final destination. Jonathan Dickinson later went on to become a beloved mayor of the City of Philadelphia. Trapper Nelson “the Tarzan of the Loxahatchee” lived off the land that was a on a part of the Loxahatchee River nearby until he passed in 1968. The State of Florida restored the site after the land was added to the park.

Today the park has two RV campgrounds,and several primitive campgrounds. We stayed at the River campground, a shady park near the boat ramp to the Loxahatchee River. It was a short walk to the Elsa Kimbell Environmental Education and Research Center. The boat launch, with canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rental, and a concession stand were nearby.

There was a wonderful paved bike path along the main road that we enjoyed. They also offer The Camp Murphy Off-road Bicycle Trail System and seasonal equine activities. The Loxahatchee Queen tour boat takes visitors to Trapper Nelson’s homestead when the tide is high. Sadly our tour boat could not make it up the river to see the site as the recent drought had made water levels dangerously low. Instead, we enjoyed hiking along the numerous trails around the park.

We enjoyed meeting several of the park’s resident Gopher Tortoises.

Our three night stay went by quickly and we returned home, this time stopping again in LaBelle after following State Road 80 along the bottom of Lake Okechobee. We tried a new restaurant(to us): the Forrey Grill.–located in the historic building that was once the original location of Flora and Ella’s Pies on Bridge Street.Their Italian food was excellent-check out this Cannoli!

Our adventures continue in my next blog.

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