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Current Concerns

Coalition for Lake Apopka Ecotourism

To: All Interested Persons
From: Friends of Lake Apopka
Re: Coalition for Lake Apopka Ecotourism

Since there has been considerable confusion and some misconceptions about the Lake Apopka planning process, I present a brief history of the project. It is my hope we will not have to spend much time discussing goals, objectives, vision statements, etc. if we agree on those already discussed. I hope we can quickly agree on such things as the structure of the group, operation of the group, even the name of the group. I present the recommendations of FOLA for points of discussion.
Jim Thomas

Since the initial discussions focused on the restoration of Lake Apopka, interest has continued to rise regarding how the lake and shorelines will be treated. While the lake is not restored, it has shown steady improvement and now is the time to increase interest in the process and begin plans to insure economic as well as ecologic restoration.

Friends of Lake Apopka incorporated in 1991 and began the important process of educating the public about problems and potential projects and received a great deal of interest from the State legislature as well as numerous environmental organizations, local governments, and research groups. The group funded a planning firm to study ideas for a Planning Initiative which was published by Canin Associates in February 2000. A second project followed which published the Lake Apopka Basin Master Plan in January 2002. Both plans presented many basic ideas about our planning efforts and are available on the FOLA website ( Perhaps we can start our efforts by reviewing these.

The need for planning was further emphasized at the Lake County Summit on Regional Issues which was held on February 8, 2013 where a number of presentations were provided from various State and Local governments and non-profits on the issues facing Lake Apopka. Following this meeting, Lake County asked Orange County to join them in an effort to prepare a detailed master plan for the Lake Apopka basin.

The City of Apopka funded a planning study for a portion of the Lake Apopka North Shore focusing on about 1,000 acres, forming a steering committee mad holding 2 public meetings to obtain input.

Orange County held a meeting on July 22, 2014 to continue the formation of a committee that could focus on all assets offered by development of the Lake Apopka Basin. The group developed the following goal for the Ecotourism Plan : “Establish the Lake Apopka Region as a Premier Ecotourism Mecca” with the following objectives:
• Attracting tourists to visit the area by providing public access points, ensuring that user groups respect the restoration plan and to provide educational tourism opportunities, both environmental and historic. All activities or initiatives taken to achieve the goals should have a positive impact on the region and improve the environmental quality of the lake.
• A vision statement was adopted from one that was taken from the City of Apopka Lake Apopka North Shore Ecotourism Plan:
• A world class ecotourism destination which balances economic development with the protection and restoration of Lake Apopka’s vast and unique environmental resources to create significant nature-based opportunities for both visitors and residents of Central Florida.

FOLA Recommendations

1. Name of the group "Coalition for Lake Apopka Ecotourism"
2. Structure of the group:
a) Form a full coalition that includes both counties, City of Apopka, Winter Garden, Ocoee, Oakland, Montverde, Mount Dora, Environmental groups (FOLA ,Audubon, others).
b) Break up the group into committees, perhaps based on regions (Apopka area, Winter Garden-Oakland, Lake County, etc).
c) Have alternate monthly meetings (Committees and full membership)
d) Begin listing current existing assets for ecotourism development and proposed projects
e) Have coalition hear presentations from committees, vote whether to approve. Have each member group present one or two delegates which will vote? (We have some opposition groups to the eco-plan. What happens if they oppose)?
3. Presentation of our plans: when a project is approved, a group is selected to plan it and present it to the right agency, group, etc. then have the coalition politic for acceptance. Make this an on-going process, don’t wait to produce a list before we start working toward approval.
4. Funding, as usual, will be our biggest problem. Presentation plans should include possible funding sources.
5. Determine the best way to do things like branding our projects and day-to-day activities (record keeping, publicity, website, Facebook, etc.)
6. Once we start listing possible projects, we need to schedule a thorough bus tour of the entire basin to help us decide the best locations, etc.
7. Define the area covered by the coalition: suggest using the Drainage Basin delineation.

District seeking public input about Upper Ocklawaha River Basin lakes

The St. Johns River Water Management District is seeking public input as part of its work to develop minimum flows and levels (MFLs) for the Upper Ocklawaha River Basin (UORB) - including lakes Apopka, Beauclair, Dora, Eustis, Harris, Griffin, and Yale, in Lake, Marion and Orange counties.
For more information or questions, and a link to an online survey, please contact Sonny Hall at or (386) 329-4368.

This November Election is Important

Amendment 1 gives Florida voters a direct opportunity to keep drinking water clean, protect our rivers, lakes, and springs, restore natural treasures like the Everglades, and protect our beaches and shores.

Amendment 1 is our best opportunity to address threats to our water quality and keep pollution out of our waters—without any increase in taxes.

Floridians understand the value of clean and abundant water for people and wildlife, and they cherish the natural areas that make Florida special. That’s why Amendment 1 would ensure that these values have a place in our state’s constitution.

To learn why FOLA believes you should care about this important choice, visit VoteYesOn1. FOLA's endorsement is in process.

North Shore Land Sale

Two parcels of land in the Northeast corner of the North Shore area that were not included in the original plan have recently been offered for sale by St Johns River Water management District. See offer...
FOLA has told the SJRWMD that we are interested in whether these parcels can be included in our ecotourism planning.

FOLA has received this draft copy of the Harris Chain Council’s Goals and Objectives framework, to be discussed at an upcoming TAG meeting.
 Following this, please see a draft copy of FOLA's responses.

Clearer water translates into better aquatic habitat, fisheries, and public-use and economic opportunities for the Harris Chain of Lakes
An overarching (action) goal for the Harris Chain of Lakes

Objective 1 – Control nutrient and sediment inputs

a. Continued long-term support for the Lake County Water Authority (LCWA) Nutrient Removal Facility (NuRF) for treating non-flood discharges from Lake Apopka to the lakes downstream.
b. Minimize direct releases from Harris Bayou into Lake Griffin with the construction of by-pass infrastructure.
c. Continued long-term support for agricultural, urban, and other categories of structural and non-structural best management practices (BMPs) as part of the total maximum daily load (TMDL) program, which the key implementation strategy under the Upper Ocklawaha Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP).

Objective 2 – Continue to improve aquatic habitat and water quality

a. Directly connect marshlands within the North Shore Restoration Area (NSRA) to Lake Apopka in those areas where the St. Johns Water Management District is not subject to land/water use restrictions as part of the agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
b. Support a pilot program to allow hydrilla to grow naturally in selected areas of Lake Apopka in an attempt to stabilize lake bottom sediments, improve water clarity, and provide important fisheries habitat. Hydrilla would be controlled to prevent encroachment into areas of the lake with public access and navigation opportunities, private docks, and habitat supporting the crappie fishery.

Objective 3 – Capitalize on habitat and water-quality improvements

a. Gain the support of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for designating the Harris Chain of Lakes as Trophy Bass Resource by implementing a catch-and-release only regulation for largemouth bass of 16 inches or greater in length.
b. Improve public access to Lake Apopka, particularly in the deeper sections of the lake along the western shore.


The following comments are submitted by FOLA in response to the draft goals and objective framework of the HCLRL in notifying the SJRWMD of their agenda for an upcoming TAG meeting.
Objective 1 - Control nutrient and sediment inputs

FOLA recognizes the value of alum treatment for nutrient removal if done properly.  FOLA objected to the NURF project because of its location (the only portion of the Apopka restoration that had never been tilled, allowing for restoration to a wet prairie habitat) and because it would have been more effective downstream.  FOLA also warned of the fact that low water levels in the lake would inhibit the operation of the system that was very expensive to construct and operate.
Objective 2 - Continue to improve aquatic habitat and water quality.

(a)  FOLA objects to any proposal to directly connect the marshlands on the north shore to the lake.  Soil oxidation occurred while the soil was dried for years and would make the area that was marshland become more lake bottom if flooded.  With our goal for restoration centered on the lake for fishing operations and the marsh for bird habitat, we feel restoration of surrounding upland habitat, marshland and lake bottom will provide a variety of habitats that will better support ecotourism.

(b)  FOLA continues to object to any proposal that allows establishment of hydrilla in any portion of the lake.  It does not take a scientist to know that once this very aggressive plant gets established in a shallow high nutrient body of water it will be difficult if not impossible to eradicate or control.  This issue has been evaluated many times and this conclusion has been agreed upon by many scientists (See Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Position Paper 04/27/2011, Section I.)
Objective 3 - Capitalize on habitat and water quality improvements

(a)  FOLA agrees with the goals to promote an active fishery in the lake but there are other ecotourism values that are equally valuable.
(b)  FOLA has continued to promote a new boat ramp in the deeper part of the lake, in Oakland.  FOLA has found an ideal site with a willing landowner and has completed a preliminary engineering plan with cost estimates.
Citizen advocacy and advisory groups can be very beneficial to local projects and problems but can also be responsible for slowing or eliminating beneficial proposals and for wasting time and money as competition for resources builds.  A Restoration Council should be concerned with the whole ecosystem and should base all decisions on the best science available.  Lake Apopka is an important part of the Harris Chain ecosystem, in fact, the headwaters.  Until this lake is restored it will be difficult to see major changes downstream.
Instead of fostering constant competition, for water, weed control and other restoration necessities, we should be working on constant cooperation to see that the needs of the whole system are met.

Jim Thomas
Friends of Lake Apopka


The Friends of Lake Apopka incorporated in 1991 and has been a strong advocacy group for the restoration of Lake Apopka since that time. The group formed after years of seeing a green lake and no fishermen and the final trigger that spurred them into action was a decision to allow the farms on the north shore ten more years of farming and a legislative bill to fund dumping of concrete rubble around the shoreline of the lake.

The call to organize got a good response and the group was instrumental in getting legislative attention which eventually resulted in a buyout of the farms (and the concrete bill got squashed in committee before it even got to the floor)! Since that time the group has been proactive in reviewing proposals for the massive restoration project and overcoming opposition that would hinder plans. Support for the group has been phenomenal!

One of the reasons for success of the group was the decision at the very beginning that any action would be based on the science of the problem or proposal. This decision separated the group from those who were more interested in protesting or following unsubstantiated proposals and plans. Letters and responses to elected officials were based on facts.

As the restoration proceeds, FOLA has followed the data as closely as possible and tries to keep the public informed. Public meetings were either aimed at updating progress (or in some cases, opposing proposals, such as fighting the hydrilla proposal). A spin-off project, the Oakland Nature Preserve, was planned to keep the public involved and to provide environmental education programs for students as well as interested adults.

Now we have a problem. More than ever, we are seeing issues being resolved more by poilitics than by science . This brings about the need for many advocates who are willing to learn about the details of a proposal and then to respond to the elected officials responsible for plans and funding. If a politician gets a few letters or phone calls he may or may not pay attention. If he gets 200 well informed responses he will be more likely to respond positively!

This is a call for help! Anyone interested in joining FOLA, getting emails and newsletters or serving on the Board of Directors please respond to our website address The individual dues for this organization is only $10.00/year—the organization needs advocates more than money! The next meeting is Thursday, November 7 at 5:30 P.M. at the Oakland Nature Preserve and the public is invited to attend. A current update will be presented. The next year in the restoration process is critical to this wonderful lake!

Lake Apopka Basin Master Plan

In 2001, FOLA commissioned Land Design Innovations to prepare a conceptual master plan for Lake Apopka Basin. See this conceptual master plan for greenways, trails, recreation and ecotourism opportunities in the Lake Apopka Basin at Master Plan. Note: This is a large file and may take a minute to load.

Lake Apopka Timeline

Sunrise over the FlowwayWe have updated our Lake Apopka Timeline to include events that have occured through August 2011. See this latest version at Timeline. If you do not have a PDF file reader you may get the free Adobe reader by clicking the link below.

 link to Adobe Reader download site


FOLA LogoOur primary purpose as a well-informed citizen group is to stay focused on the fundamental goal of restoring Lake Apopka to the valuable resource it once was. If you share this goal, we welcome and need you to get involved and become an active member.
You can start by clicking Membership for more information.

Water, Water Everywhere ?

The concerns surrounding water conservation are important to every resident of West Orange County. For some good information on this critical topic, see:
Water, Water, Everywhere?...
Plant Management in Florida Waters...
Floridan Aquifer...
Florida's Water...
Mirage, Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S.

Oakland Nature Preserve

Lake from boardwalk By the mid-1990’s, the restoration of the long polluted and endlessly abused Lake Apopka was under way. The Board of Directors of the Friends of Lake Apopka, the main citizen advocacy group for the lake, realized that long-term citizen support for the restoration process was necessary and also noted that, as the lake was restored, development pressures in the basin would increase. This led to a search to find land now on the shoreline where the restoration could be interpreted for the public, providing a window on this process with a boardwalk to the lake.  The result became the beautiful Oakland Nature Preserve.

Birding History

For an excellent article with a concise history of birding on the reclaimed North Shore of Lake Apopka, see Florida's Special Places: Lake Apopka on Audubon of Florida News. The author has been birding there since 1998 and includes some very nice pictures.


Keep up with what's happening at the St Johns River Water Management District with the latest Water News.

Lake County Parks & Trails

Read about upcoming nature hikes and bird surveys in the current issue of the Lake County Parks & Trails Newsletter .

Green Mountain Scenic Byway

Scenic Highway Website LogoYes, Florida does have hills! Beginning at the Howey Crossroads (the intersection of Lake County Roads 455 and 561), the Green Mountain Scenic Byway winds southeast along Lake County Roads 455 and Old Highway 50 for 12 ½ miles through some of the highest hills of the Lake Wales Ridge. See the Green Mountain Scenic Byway Master Plan at this new Green Mountain Scenic Byway Project Website.