Indian River Drive battered, but beautiful after Nicole
Every time I travel along Indian River Drive, I am reminded of why I returned to Florida.
Mind you, I usually don’t get too excited about roads. I mostly think of them as random strips of asphalt that help me get from point A to point B.
Indian River Drive is special, though. It makes commuting between Stuart and Fort Pierce – something I do regularly – a real pleasure.
After all, what’s not to like?
Indian River Drive passes stately homes from Sewall’s Point to Fort Pierce. The route passes through the trendy downtown shopping districts of Jensen Beach and Fort Pierce.
It hugs the eastern edge of Savannas Preserve State Park, so it’s not uncommon to see sandhill cranes and other wildlife alongside (or even in) traffic.
Not to mention the Indian River Lagoon, which looks spectacular along every mile of the drive. No matter how bad a day has gone, my mood improves every time I look east while driving along Indian River Drive.
So when I heard that Hurricane Nicole had caused extensive road damage, I had to check it out for myself on Thursday.
I turned north from the intersection of Indian River Drive and State Road A1A at Sewall’s Point. It didn’t take long to spot the evidence of what had happened the night before.
I saw work trucks with crews picking up storm debris at three locations in Sewall’s Point, which is saying a lot since it’s not a very big town.
As is often the case after thunderstorms, the yards of many homes in the community were flooded. Water also covered part of the roadway, but not enough to slow motorists for more than a minute or two.
When I parked in the Dolphin Bar and Shrimp House parking lot, it was nearly empty of cars at a time of day when it would normally be packed with lunchtime crowds.
Brian Kelly, general manager of the bar, was removing sandbags outside the door of one of the rental cabins next to the restaurant.
Nicole, arriving late in the hurricane season, was a little surprised.
“This one happened pretty quickly, so we scrambled,” Kelly said.
The restaurant’s docks were damaged, so Kelly said boat access would be restricted until repairs were made. However, he was grateful that the rising waters never entered the restaurant.
After being closed on Wednesday and Thursday, Kelly said the Dolphin Bar was due to reopen at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
Nearby Indian RiverSide Park appeared to weather the storm nearly unscathed. People were walking dogs and spinning around as if nothing had happened.
There was, however, standing water in a few places and a collapsed sidewalk marked with barricades and yellow police tape.
Next door, at the US Sailing Center in Martin County, the aftermath of the hurricane was much more evident.
Branches, mud and other debris littered the lawn between the center’s main building and the beach used for launching sailboats. Two piles were washed ashore during the storm, in addition to other miscellaneous damage.
Crews were already at work, sweeping up debris and wetting mud from the building’s breezeway.
Above the din of hammers and power saws, Alan Jenkinson, the centre’s executive director, said efforts were underway to prepare for the Junior Olympic Sailing Festival, which is due to be held there on December 3-4 .
The event is expected to attract 300 competitors, as well as coaches, parents and other spectators.
I asked if the center would be recovered from the storm in time.
“I kind of have to do it,” Jenkinson said. “I don’t know. I’m worried. The event has been sold out for three or four months. It’s an important source of income for the sailing centre.”
Jenkinson said the center’s many volunteers would come together in force on Friday to tackle the massive cleanup project.
While Nicole suffered a setback, Jenkinson said he still feels luckier than the residents of Fort Myers who were recently hit by Hurricane Ian.
“They lost their sailing center,” Jenkinson said. “We just have a mess to clean up.”
Downtown Jensen Beach appeared to have avoided major damage. People wandered along Jensen Beach Boulevard, heading to local bars and restaurants to get the weekend off to an early start.
Fredgie’s World Famous Hot Dogs, an iconic food truck that sits perilously close to the edge of the lagoon, was planning to reopen Friday after two days of storm-related closures.
“We had no problems,” said owner Toni Rummo. “We are fine here.”
Heading north from Jensen Beach, I came across two spots where work crews had closed the northbound lanes of Indian River Drive to shore up spots where choppy waves had washed away the ground below.
A St. Lucie County Sheriff’s car was posted at Indian River Drive and County Line Road, blocking cars from continuing north.
A short distance from the sheriff’s checkpoint, it was easy to see why: tree limbs and downed power lines made Indian River Drive impassable.
Further north, at the intersection of Indian River Drive and Walton Road, deputies were preventing everyone but neighborhood residents from traveling south due to dangerous road conditions.
Instead, I headed north on Indian River Drive toward Fort Pierce, dodging many palm fronds along the road.
Leanna Haag was outside with her three children, collecting palm fronds in their garden.
“The house is fine; the dock, not so much,” Haag said, pointing to a partially submerged jetty jutting out into the lagoon.
Haag said she and the children had been working in the yard for about two hours.
“That’s the price we pay for having palm trees,” she said. “But we like palm trees.”
“We do?” replied his 11-year-old son, Cody. “I don’t like them. If it was up to me, I’d shoot them.”
Scattered palm fronds and submerged and/or battered docks were a recurring theme all the way to downtown Fort Pierce.
All in all, this was the most depressing trip I’ve done along Indian River Drive. Still, I was encouraged by the people I met along the way, who seemed to count their blessings and make the most of Mother Nature’s hand.
Upon arriving in Fort Pierce, I saw a pretty rainbow over the lagoon. Now, I’m not saying that was an omen.
Nor am I saying it wasn’t.
This column reflects the opinion of Blake Fontenay. Contact him by email at [email protected] or 772-232-5424.