Responding to the recent action by the St. Johns River Water Management District to consider possible surplus sale of 529 acres at the Lake Apopka North Shore Restoration Project, the Orange County Commission yesterday voted unanimously to tell SJRWMD to slow down surplus decisions and that Orange County itself may want to take over the property for uses related to environmental restoration and ecotourism.
The Orange County environmental staff and representatives from the Orange Audubon Society and Ocklawaha Valley Audubon Society told the commission that the lands were at risk for the possible expansion of a small airstrip into a jet airport that could threaten the whole restoration project. Ideas for use of the land as an ecotourism center to benefit public access to the restoration project for birdwatching were also mentioned. While SJRWMD had already voted to require that any possible surplus of the land not include any “incompatible uses” and several SJRWMD board members opined at a recent board meeting that they would not support airport expansion, the Orange County Commission action represents another major step toward securing an appropriate future for this 529 acre area.
Lake County Commissioners had already voted to ask SJRWMD to hold off surplussing and avoid dealing with the possible airport until a regional summit with Orange County is held. The Orange County action also contemplates a summit focused on the environmental issues surrounding these lands. While the 529 acre area itself has never been part of the restoration plan, the future of these lands are critical to the success of adjacent marsh restoration projects.
Motivating the restoration is the possibility of establishment of a new National Wildlife Refuge to encompass an area long known as one of the most important “hot spots” for migratory birds and resident species anywhere in North America.
The record highest Christmas Bird Count for any inland location in North America occurred at Lake Apopka. The cumulative list of species observed tops 350. See the list of Birds observed at Lake Apopka by clicking here.
Audubon Florida will be continuing to press public officials for decisions which enhance, rather than harm, the restoration of marshes at Lake Apopka. Thanks to the Orange County Commission for taking a great step in the right direction.