Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170;   president@SEVolusiaAudubon.org


Perils at Lake Apopka Restoration Area

Dear Central Florida area Chapter Leaders:


You have probably heard about the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive on the 20,000 acre St. Johns River Water Management District Lake Apopka North Shore. The 11-mile Drive, which starts at 2803 Lust Rd, Apopka, FL, opened May 1st and is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and federal holidays. Many of your chapters have already had field trips there. Orange Audubon Society has long been advocating for conservation in the Lake Apopka North Shore and worked to have the Drive and a 15-mile Loop Trail for hiking and bicycling opened. Information and maps are at the District's site: http://floridaswater.com/recreationguide/lakeapopka/


Although opening the Drive and Loop Trail are successes, there are still threats to the public ownership and access to the 20,000 acres of Water Management District land. The Senator from that area is Alan Hays, the one who derailed Amendment 1 funding saying “we have enough conservation land.” There is also a legislatively-appointed group called the Harris Chain of Lakes Restoration Council whose members include a fishing guide that wants the Lake Apopka North Shore flooded to increase fishing habitat (Lake Apopka already has 30,000 acres of open water).   Removal of dikes and subsequent flooding would result in reductions in wetland habitat for shore and wading birds, ducks and other wildlife, as well as reduced recreational and wildlife viewing opportunities.


Another threat is that entities still trying to make an economic recovery after the closing of the farm economy are trying to build ecotourism and they have latched onto the idea of air boat rides, marketed to tourists visiting the Orlando area, as a new economic engine. We worry that air boat traffic near the Loop Trail and Wildlife Drive could hinder the tranquil enjoyment visitors are experiencing and could scare away wading birds and other wildlife.


Will you help us preserve this large open area now being enjoyed by so many birders? Two requests:

1. The Lake Apopka Wildlife Festival & Birdapalooza Four years ago Orange Audubon (Bob Stamps and Loretta Satterthwaite) worked with a coalition of partners to launch Birdapalooza  this year Saturday February 6th. It is a FREE fun family festival showing off the North Shore, with  guided bus tours and hikes, including children’s hikes, photo hikes, bird banding, and other children’s activities. Its success proved that the local residents have interest in the North Shore, which helped get local elected officials enthusiastic about it.

This year to attract out of town birders we have added a Friday February 5th event to Birdapalooza with three field trips led by well-known leaders (Birdapalooza Friday brochure). The donation ($40 for an all day trip, $20 for each half day trip) will go to Orange Audubon's nature education center fund (we have long had a goal to develop a center near or on the North Shore).


Here is the event on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/516674098514365/  and we have listed it on national and state sites. Next year we hope to move the event up one week so it doesn't conflict with the Palm Coast Feather Fest event and is only a week later than the Space Coast event, so we can both get some bigger name trip leaders and more easily recruit participants. Please let your board and other members know about this new Birding Festival (Friday February 5th) and help us prove that birding is an economic engine. Email me if any questions on the festival.


2.The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is getting more and more popular. We now are managing a Facebook page where people are posting what they have seen and photographed (https://www.facebook.com/lakeapopkawildlifedrive/). It has 1187 LIKES as of this week. Someone else is managing a Facebook group with the same name where photographers are posting. This could be an important communication tool to the public if threats arise. Please consider LIKING it and posting photos after trips (to the Page with over 1000 LIKEs). You can post to the Group too, but our communication tool is the Page- https://www.facebook.com/lakeapopkawildlifedrive/.).

Also, please let us know if you have a field trip to the area so we can make a list of Audubon chapters that have visited to share this information with the elected officials. Tell us when you visited and how many participated. On your next trip, if you let us know and anyone from Orange Audubon is available, we will meet you out there and share some sightings.


Thank you!


Deborah Green, Orange Audubon Society President, cell 386-690-4705