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Framed by thunderstorm clouds, the entrance sign at Jonathan Dickinson State Park beckons visitors to the park. Rental canoes, kayaks and skiffs line the dock on the world-famous Loxahatchee River, Florida's first National Wild & Scenic River. Trapper Nelson's cabin, part of his restored homestead, appears as it did during his life as the 'Wildman of the Loxahatchee.' The Elsa Kimbell Environmental Education & Research Center is home to the park's classrooms, research lab and Visitor Center.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Canoeing and kayaking on the Wild & Scenic Loxahatchee River is one of the park's most popular activities.

History and Culture

The 11,500-acre park is named for Jonathan Dickinson, a Quaker merchant whose vessel shipwrecked nearby in 1696. During World War II, the land the park now occupies was home to Camp Murphy, a top-secret radar training school with over 6,600 men. The land became a state park in 1950. Far upriver is the Trapper Nelson Interpretive Site, the restored homestead of a man who came to this area in the 1930s and lived off the land, trapping and selling furs. He became famous as the 'Wildman of the Loxahatchee,' opening his 'Trapper's Jungle Gardens and Wildlife Zoo' to the public.

One of the entrance gates to WW II Camp Murphy, circa 1942, in what is now Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

Camp Murphy Entrance

During World War II, Camp Murphy, a top-secret radar training school, occupied the land that is now Jonathan Dickinson State Park. More than 1,000 buildings quickly sprang up from the scrub and more than 6,000 personnel were stationed at the camp, which had its own power plants, sewer system, church and theater. Very few locals had any real information about what was going on, only that a secret Army base had been constructed. Land had been quickly and summarily purchased or condemned and taken from landowners. After only two years of operation, in November 1944, Camp Murphy was deactivated and the whole operation was shut down.

A family engages in birdwatching along the roadside in Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

Early Birdwatchers

This photo shows a family, probably in the early or mid-1970s, posing as birdwatchers in front of a large interpretive sign. Today, the location of the nests of bald eagles within the park is a closely held secret to keep disturbance of these animals to a minimum and to comply with Federal regulations. In the 1970s, natural features would often be widely advertised. The large Low Flying Eagles sign was surely less of a traffic warning than an attempt to call attention to the park's resident population of the rare birds.

A man and woman pose in front of Jungle Cruise boats at Trapper Nelson's riverfront camp circa 1950s.

Photo at Trapper's

Trapper Nelson, born Vincent Natulkiewicz, came to the upper Loxahatchee River in the early 1930s. He spent many years making his living as an animal trapper and fur trader, living a self-sufficient life with no electricity or city water.

A family is seen at a picnic table, in front of some rather curious vending machines, in old Pine Grove campground.

Old Pine Grove

Pine Grove Campground at Jonathan Dickinson State Park has a long and storied history. Originally the site of the hospital complex of World War II's Camp Murphy, the area was extensively planted with non-native Australian Pine trees, which have grown to impressive heights and made for a very popular and shady campground. A confusing array of dirt roads led to 90 campsites, each with water and electric service. At one time there were even more sites, south of the main camp area and stretching north near Hobe Mountain and up to the old shop area. The park's concession store was located there until around 1978.  In addition, at one time, there was even a mini-golf course.

A young Trapper Nelson is seen at his camp, with an alligator that he has trapped.

Trapper Nelson

Trapper Nelson, the famous 'Wildman of the Loxahatchee,' slowly converted his homestead into a tourist attraction after World War II. Visitors from around the world came to see the legendary Trapper, clad only in his customary shorts and pith helmet, as he handled poisonous snakes and wrestled alligators. Folks could buy souvenirs, rent rowboats or stay overnight in one of Trapper's cabins. He spent the majority of his profits buying land at tax sales, amassing roughly 1,000 acres of the Loxahatchee riverfront and sparing much of it from development. Before his mysterious death, he had begun negotiations with the Park Service trying to see his beloved camp preserved once he was gone. In his later years, Trapper became paranoid and reclusive, convinced that he was very sick and that people were out to get him. In 1968, he was found by one of his few remaining friends lying under one of his open shelters, killed by a blast from his own shotgun. He was 59 years old.