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10 things we love about John D. MacArthur State Park
Funny, what's in a name.
Take John D. MacArthur State Park at the north edge of Singer Island.
It's named after the late John D. MacArthur, an eccentric, irascible billionaire who once owned a huge hunk of Palm Beach County, including this park land.
He was more into business than beauty, but you'll find plenty of the latter at the park, known for its beach, birds, butterflies … oh, and those nudists.
You didn't know about the naked people?
For more on that and other fun facts about the park, check out our list.
Beachy: Swim along two miles of beautiful beach (caution: no lifeguards), but don't ignore the estuary, a veritable water wonderland. It's home to snook, fiddler crabs, oyster beds and more. In deeper water you'll see "flying fish" — mullets — leaping out of the water. Why do they jump? One theory is they're reacting to a parasitic itch. Another: They're just happy — jumping for joy.
Butterflies: Chances are, you'll see lots of Florida's state butterfly, the zebra longwing, easily recognized by its yellow-white stripes and long wings. But that's just for starters. If you're counting, roughly 2,600 species of butterflies and moths call Florida home. If you don't know your giant swallowtails from your great southern whites, sign up for the free guided butterfly walk. The next one is 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 18.
Kayaking: Unlike most Florida coastline, this park's coast is untouched by development. One way for an up-close look at unspoiled nature is to kayak through the mangroves. You might glimpse a dolphin. In winter, maybe a manatee. On ranger-led, two-hour tours, you can kayak through the estuary and step foot on Munyon Island at the park's southwest end. (Two-hour kayak tours: $20 for singles; $35 for doubles. Or go it alone: $10 an hour for a single; $15 double.)
History: The spit of land known as Munyon Island is wild vegetation now, but it has a storied past. About a century ago, its namesake Dr. James Munyon built a lavish resort hotel there called The Hygeia. Northerners flocked to the hotel, named after a Greek goddess of health. Inside the park's nature center you'll see photos of the hotel and the doctor, big on "natural remedies," which he claimed cured everything from rheumatism to constipation. There was no saving the hotel, however. It burned in 1915.
Indians: The nature center houses fascinating finds. You'll see that ol' Doc Munyon was hardly the first to stroll the area. The park land was once home to American Indians a thousand or so years ago. A 1988 dune excavation revealed oyster shells and turtle bones, remnants of their dinner fare.
Reef: Snorkelers, don your masks. Take the reef tour, offered at 10 Saturday mornings. You'll swim roughly 20 yards offshore to the reef, where you might see lobster, snappers, angelfish …
Tram: Palm Beach County's only state park stretches for 317 upland acres. Another 120 are submerged. If you need a lift, hop the tram to travel across a 1,600-foot-long boardwalk that takes you over the estuary to the beach. The tram runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Near the bridge, check out the bust of John D. MacArthur. In the '50s, he bought this land known as Air Force Beach. It opened as a state park in 1989. MacArthur, who died in 1978, made billions in insurance and development but was known as a skinflint. He conducted his business at a table in the coffee shop of the old Colonnades Beach Hotel in Palm Beach Shores, not far from this park. He owned the hotel and lived there with his wife in a modest apartment overlooking a parking lot.
Trek: Hit the trail. The Satinleaf Nature Trail, that is. Let your eyes feast on something besides big city concrete as you enjoy a leisurely 20-minute walk through a maritime hammock. Look for gumbo limbo trees and cabbage palms. The trail's namesake, the satin leaf tree, produces small dark purple fruit that Caribbean children use for gum. (No. 1 tip: Don't eat any fruit you see on trees or plants. No. 2 tip: Bring bug repellent.)
Music: The park offers a free concert the third Sunday of every month. You'll hear some sweet bluegrass tunes if you show up at 1 p.m. Aug. 19 at the amphitheater adjacent to the nature center.
Nudies: Now, about those nudists. Over the years, nudist activists have pushed for a "clothes optional" section at the beach. In 1990, a U.S. District Court decision ensured that Florida state parks could continue their ban on nude sunbathing on public beaches.
But that wasn't the end of it. Four years ago, two dozen clothes-free folks formed a peace symbol on the beach at the park. This time around, it was a war protest.
Liz Doup can be reached at email@example.com and 954-356-4722.