Keeping Heads Above Water

Hurricane Ian Put Triangle Ranch Underwater

Ranchers wait for the water to recede before they can put the land back in working order.

By Isaac Eger October 10, 2022

Flooding at Triangle Ranch after Hurricane Ian.

When Elizabeth Moore bought Triangle Ranch back in 2016, she built it with a 100-year flood plan in mind. She had Josh Wynne Construction put the Cracker cottages on pillars in preparation for those once-a-century storms when the Myakka River overflows. But Hurricane Ian was extraordinary. The water got so high that it lapped up against the front door of the raised homes.

“It wasn’t a 100-year storm,” Moore says. “It was a 500-year storm.”

While the coast of Sarasota escaped the worst of Hurricane Ian, the eastern parts of the county suffered massive flooding. Dairy farms lost cows, the main streets of Arcadia flooded and Myakka River turned into a lake. Triangle Ranch is a 1,143-acre parcel of land that lies just to the north of Myakka River State Park. Three miles of the normally placid river winds through the property, and as of today, most of the ranch is still underwater.

The tannic water of the Myakka river inundated roads leading to Triangle Ranch.

“This was a very abnormal storm,” says Jason McKendree, Triangle Ranch’s land manager. “It surpassed the 100-year mark. It surpassed it with fireworks.” The water didn’t reach McKendree’s home, but he and his family have been without electricity since the storm. Now they have to sit and wait for the water to recede before they can get to the hard work of putting the land back together again.

Usually wry, McKendree sounded tired during a recent phone interview. “Forgive me,” he says. “I don’t have a lot of humor right now. I’m exhausted.” He and his family have been shuttling back and forth by boat to assess the damage and care for the cattle stranded on a dry heap of land deep in the ranch. 

He says he considers himself fortunate. What happened on Triangle Ranch isn’t nearly as bad as what happened further south. All the animals and buildings on the ranch survived. They lost a bit of metal on an old barn. “People lost lives and livelihoods,” McKendree says. “We are very fortunate and extremely wet. We can still lay our heads down at night.”

Jason McKendree sits on the front porch of a Cracker house on the flooded Triangle Ranch.

After Hurricane Irma hit Triangle Ranch in 2017, McKendree vowed he’d never clean up after a bad storm again. “I beat myself up trying to get it back,” he says. “This storm right here, it was Irma times 10. It twisted trees off like you wouldn’t believe.” But he’s confident he’ll get the land back to where it was. Fences will need mending and rebuilding. Brush will need to be cleared. He just has to wait for the water to recede. During the rainy season, when the ranch gets flooded, it takes about 7-10 days for the land to dry out.

Triangle Ranch on a dry day.

“I’ve owned the land for six years and even before this, we already had two-hundred-year storms,” Moore says. But, she adds, didn’t buy this land for people to live on forever. “This land is for nature and our watershed,” she says. “Water is supposed to do that. It’s inconvenient for us humans, but that’s what it’s supposed to do. Maybe some day it’s going to be Triangle Lake.”

A very wet Myakka.

Image: Jared Faulkner 

Because the ranch is still green, it will just take a short while for things to get back to normal. The ranch’s AirBnB operations are expected to be up and ready early next month. Moore wants us to imagine how different things might have been if the land were turned into a sub-development. “One thousand people a day, new houses, new roofs, parking lots and roads and supermarkets,” Moore says. “All this is impervious surface and leaves nowhere for the water to go.” At Triangle Ranch, the water will soon sink back into the earth. “You can’t fight nature,” she says.

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