Maggie Hurchalla
Indian River Lagoon Feasibility Study
Stuart, Florida

Maggy Hurchalla’s family moved to Miami in the 1920s, just in time for the 1926 Hurricane-a wall of water and wind that humbled Florida’s boom-time settlers. Ms. Hurchalla grew up in Dade County in the 1940s, when hurricanes crisscrossed South Florida at a rate never seen before or since. Growing up in those tempestuous times next to a 20-acre cow pasture that was sometimes all wet and sometimes all dry made it easy for her to understand that Florida’s wetlands are dynamic.

Ms. Hurchalla became a county commissioner in 1974 in South Florida’s Martin County, where development had not yet bulldozed the wilderness. She served as commissioner for 20 years through tumultuous battles over growth and environment. When isolated wetlands were not protected by state or federal agencies, Ms. Hurchalla transformed Martin County into a national leader for wetland protection. She recognized that no wetland in Florida is truly isolated, and that the mosaic of small and seemingly disconnected sloughs are as important to Florida’s water supply and wildlife as the more attention-attracting Everglades.

When the largest environmental restoration ever attempted began to take shape through the federal Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Ms. Hurchalla played a major role, serving on the Governor’s Commission for a Sustainable South Florida and helping to resolve critical issues over wetlands. She also incorporated her knowledge of county governance and of the federal restoration plan as part of a team that designed the first critical component of the plan for the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie Estuary. The design shows concretely that restoring wetlands is essential for ecosystem restoration and that environmentalists and the federal government can be partners in effective restoration.

— Donna Melzer, Martin County Conservation Alliance, Stuart, Florida