West Orange County and nearby state and local parks offer opportunities to view wildlife and learn about Florida’s natural environment. The Oakland Nature Preserve has a beautiful boardwalk that leads you to Lake Apopka, where you can view many aquatic plants, animal and bird species.
The Preserve’s Environmental Education Building opened in early 2009. It houses a classroom dedicated to teaching environmental sciences to children and a museum. This building is a replica of an early pioneer homestead. Learn more about the Butler Chain of Lakes when you visit Tibet-Butler Preserve’s Nature Center or walk Tibet-Butler’s many trails to experience a variety of central Florida upland plant communities.
West Orange County has a bounty of beautiful lakes. These many lakes contribute to the area’s recreation, including fishing, bird and wildlife viewing, boating, skiing and swimming. Some of the better-known lakes include Lake Apopka, Starke Lake, Johns Lake, Black Lake and the Butler Chain of Lakes. For information about Orange County lakes, including water quality data and natural history, you can log onto the Orange County Water Atlas at www.orange.wateratlas.org.
In recent years, the state and local government agencies, along with grassroots groups, have put forth extra efforts to protect Florida lakes.
Businesses and residents can do their part to protect water quality and preserve fish nurseries and wildlife habitats. Orange County Environmental Protection Division (OCEPD) has created the Clean Lakes Initiative Program (CLIP) to assist the public in preserving local lake ecology. For more information about the CLIP or about lake, wetland or boat dock permitting requirements telephone OCEPD at (407) 836–1400 or log on to www.ocepd.org.
Businesses located in West Orange County, originally attracted by the area’s economic growth, as well as its scenic beauty, can contact the Orange County Environmental Protection Division for assistance concerning wetland protection and environmental regulations applying to petroleum, air, hazardous waste and storm water pollution prevention.
Log on to www.ocepd.org to view local ordinances and for permit applications. For state questions, telephone the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Central District Office at (407) 894–7577. For state-related, lake-specific questions, including permitting, contact the local Bureau of Invasive Plant Management at (407) 275–4007. To contact area water management district(s) call St. Johns River Water Management at (407) 659–4800 or South Florida Water Management District, which governs the Windermere area lakes, at (407) 858–6100.
After years of neglect, Lake Apopka has begun a healing process. The restoration of the lake has been underway for several years now and following some bumps in the road, is finally taking off—ecological conditions are improving and Lake Apopka should be shedding the title of “Florida’s most polluted large lake.” The phosphorous levels in the lake are fairly steady. This is a great improvement though there is still progress to be made to reach the goals. Nutrients have always been the big problem for the lake, causing the algae blooms and the resulting discoloration of the water. The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD), which is responsible for the restoration, is using a science-based, multi-pronged strategy to restore the lake and the surrounding wetlands.
Friends of Lake Apopka (FOLA) and Orange Audubon continue to work with SJRWMD staff to look at long-term opportunities for an environmental education center on the North Shore restoration area. FOLA is also working with the district to secure access across the farms to connect the Lake Apopka Loop Trail. We encourage the district to improve existing, significant wildlife viewing opportunities, which will benefit Florida’s residents and tourists alike. These efforts will help tell the story of Lake Apopka’s restoration, which is becoming an example of how citizen support and good public policy, combined with sound scientific principles and an adaptive management approach, is leading to the restoration of a heavily degraded 50,000-acre ecosystem.