By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley
At the intimate Ocean Ridge Natural Area, you’ll experience the beauty and benefits of a mangrove wetland plus the unique plants of a maritime hammock — a tropical hardwood forest — growing near the shore.
What you won’t see? Automobiles. There is absolutely no parking available. In fact, the only way to access the preserve is to walk, bike or boat.
Part of a 27-acre mitigation site, this almost 12.5-acre county-owned parcel opened as a natural area in 2006. It was created as a place not only for people to enjoy but also to comply with the law.
As the wetland trees were removed along roadways and from development sites, new trees including mangroves had to be replanted elsewhere so that the losses would be “mitigated.”
“When we first came out here, the land was covered with sand from the dredging of the Intracoastal. Its upper elevations were solid with Australian pines and all sorts of exotic vegetation. You couldn’t walk through here because there were mangrove ditches you had to cross,” says Harvey Rudolph, who oversaw the creation of this natural area as a senior environmental analyst for the Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management before retiring in 2012.
You will find the entrance to the park at the end of the right of way for the part of Corrine Street that was never paved. From here, you follow the trail to a boardwalk that runs about 1,500 feet and provides the perfect introduction to mangroves — red, black and white.
In fact, not only was the boardwalk laid out by Rudolph, but he also oversaw the planting of the 9,000 mangroves that have continued to multiply and thrive here. Much of the work in muck and mud was done by 90 volunteers.
“Ten years later, people have come back and said, ‘I planted that tree,’” says Rudolph, who also oversaw the planting of 5,000 other native trees, shrubs and grasses in this park.
The most recognizable mangroves are the reds that have prop roots with their feet in the water. Also called “walking trees,” these, like all mangroves, are important for preventing erosion.
“They protect high-energy shorelines where there’s lots of wave action. They break it and slow it down,” says Carolyn Beisner, the senior environmental analyst overseeing this area today. Mangroves also provide plenty of habitat for fish and birds.
The prolific reds grow in the deepest water with the blacks behind them followed by the whites in the shallowest areas.
Looking down at the water, you may see a lot of the cigar-shaped seeds of the red mangrove floating on their sides. When they soak up enough water, they float with pointy tips in the air.
If a seed hits a muddy spot, the heavier end facing down can put out roots; the tip can grow upward to create roots and shoots, explains Rudolph.
The mangroves also have adapted to living in the salty or brackish water by either secreting or excluding salt. If you lick the bottom of a black or white mangrove leaf, it will probably taste salty because these plants secrete salt; reds exclude it.
“These are nature’s special adaptations for life in this kind of habitat,” says Beisner. You also may notice a sulfurous smell — the result of bacteria and fungi breaking down plant material and animal waste which then become nutrients supporting new life.
Coming to the end of the boardwalk, you probably won’t recognize the slight increases in elevation as you enter the half-acre maritime hammock, where plant roots are above sea level.
“It’s just inches, say a foot that makes a big difference in what grows. An upland can be 3 feet above high tide and you’ll have totally different plants growing at that elevation,” says Beisner, pointing to the salt-tolerant gumbo limbos, green buttonwoods, sea grapes, necklace pods and wild coffees found here.
You’ll also find cabbage palms, some embraced by strangler figs, saw palmettos, stoppers and wild limes attracting butterflies.
There is a 20-foot observation tower, but it is closed for repairs. It once had Intracoastal views but, as the hammock grew around it, the view now is mostly of native vegetation.
At the end of the path that is at sea level, you reach floating boat docks as well as more mangroves tucked away from the daily bustle of the beach community.
“This is a nice, quiet place,” says Rudolph.
If You Go
Where: Ocean Ridge Natural Area, 1 Corrine St., Ocean Ridge. The street going west off of A1A (North Ocean Boulevard) leads to the park entrance.
Open: Daily sunrise to sunset.
Parking: There is no automobile parking at this nature area. There is parking at Oceanfront Park, 6415 N. Ocean Blvd., Ocean Ridge, which is a .7-mile walk to the park (13 minutes), according to Google Maps.
Transportation: Visit by walking, biking (leaving your bike on a rack at the entrance) or boat. Tie up a small boat at floating docks dredged to about 7 feet — but, of course, this area is tidal, so take care.
More information: Visit https://discover.pbcgov.org/erm/NaturalAreas/Ocean-Ridge.aspx.
Enjoy this satellite photo of the natural area on Google Maps: https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-80.0512728,668m/data=!3m1!1e3
Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley can be reached at email@example.com.