Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive celebrates third anniversary

An anhinga feasts on a fish along the shores of Lake Apopka.

An anhinga feasts on a fish along the shores of Lake Apopka.

MAITLAND, Fla., April 25, 2018 —  Averaging about 10,000 visitors each month, the St. Johns River Water Management District’s Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive will celebrate its third anniversary since opening in May 2015.

“We are committed to balancing the ecosystem’s viability with the public’s desire for recreational opportunities,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “Opening the drive just 3 days a week allows the public to see firsthand this unique wildlife habitat while at the same time allowing the wildlife to enjoy a quiet, undisturbed life the rest of the week. Truly a win-win for both the public and the environment.”

To commemorate the anniversary, volunteers with the Orange Audubon Society will be stationed along the drive on Sunday, April 29, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with scopes, bird books and loaner binoculars to assist visitors with identifying wildlife.

The 11-mile drive covers a network of wetlands, levees and canals, providing a variety of wildlife viewing opportunities. A free self-guided audio tour, which can be streamed through mobile devices and online, is also available along the wildlife drive and provides visitors with a narrative on the area’s history, wildlife and district-led restoration efforts. Several vehicle pullovers on the drive provide opportunities for stopping at preferred sites.

Once farmed land, the area was acquired by the district between 1988 and 2001 with the goal of reducing discharges of nutrients to the lake to protect water quality, promote water storage and provide critical wetland functions. This multi-benefit restoration approach on the North Shore relies upon the district’s expertise in science, engineering, construction and wildlife management.

Housed within the district’s 20,000-acre Lake Apopka North Shore restoration area, the wildlife drive opened in May 2015. Its success is attributed to not only housing a diverse bird population but also providing unprecedented access to the unique area. Home to 369 species of birds, visitors should also watch for alligators, turtles, otters, raccoon, snakes, coyotes and bobcats.

The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is open year-round between sunrise and sunset on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays. There is no cost to visit the wildlife drive.

More information about recreational opportunities on lands owned and managed by the district is available at www.sjrwmd.com/recreation.