Martin Grade: A Precious Treasure in Need of Care

Posted on July 24, 2022

Martin Grade: A Precious Treasure in Need of Care

As you leave Palm City heading west on State Road 714, about seven miles west of I-95, it feels as though you are being transported into a different world. Time slows and you suddenly enter a beautiful tunnel of trees. Thick branches and leaves block out the sweltering sun, and beams of sunlight peak through and speckle the roadway.

You are driving along Martin Grade Scenic Highway, known simply to locals as “The Grade.” It’s an extraordinary stretch of road lined with a canopy of old growth live oaks, sabal palms, and slash pine.

The Grade is an environmental treasure.

This 12-mile roadway connects our coastal urban area to the western agricultural lands of Martin County and is a breathtakingly beautiful piece of Old Florida.  The ages of the trees are estimated to be between 60 and 80 years old, with some specimens dating back to the early 1900s!

In more recent years, invasive and exotic species have grown thick along the Grade and must be removed. Sadly, some of the trees are dead or dying and need to be safely replaced. The entire canopy is in intense need of a multi-year preservation program so we can preserve it for our continued enjoyment now and protect it for future generations.

A Bit of Background.

This wouldn’t be the first threat the Grade has overcome. In 2011, there was a call to widen the road, which would have effectively destroyed the canopy. Environmental activist and former Martin County Commissioner Mary Dawson, along with her son Rob, stepped in to protect the precious trees. They created Sustaining Community Lands, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to obtaining the Florida Scenic Highway designation for the Martin Grade Highway. However, gaining this status didn’t guarantee total protection of the trees; only garnering community support could do that.

In 2015, the Dawsons’ tireless work finally paid off when State Road 714 was officially designated the Martin Grade Scenic Highway, joining 26 other scenic highways scattered across the state. This moment was a great milestone and cause for celebration, but Dawson and her team knew the work was far from over.

Keep Martin Beautiful becomes caretaker of the Grade.

In 2018, the Dawsons passed the torch to Keep Martin Beautiful to continue to lead the charge to preserve the Martin Grade and protect the trees. Our community has worked for decades to care for this treasure, and we take very seriously our goal of preserving the gift that nature has placed into our stewardship. 

Keep Martin Beautiful is developing an action plan for the Martin Grade, including seeking more grassroots support as well as the funding necessary to save and replace the trees within the canopy. Here are some ways you can help:

As always, thank you to everyone who is already doing their part to Keep Martin County Beautiful!

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