Who knew that Central Florida had so much to do including a wildlife drive? That's right, a wildlife drive. The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is a must do for anyone looking for some peace and quite away from the busy city. The best part of this location is that it's right here in Central Florida. Lake Apopka was once known as one of the most polluted lakes in Florida, mainly because this land use to be farm land and years of agricultural pesticides spilled into the lake and the surrounding areas. This pollution led to the demise of the lake and killed most of the fish in the water. Sadly without the fish, there was no reason to have birds. Today, the St. Johns River Water Management District owns the land around Lake Apopka and is doing an incredible job at resorting the lake back to its original glory.
Opened in May 2015, the 50,000 acres along the north shore of Lake Apopka is home to more than 360 species of birds. The best time to see the various specis is going to be Fall, Winter or Spring. However, in Summer, during mid July and August you will find over 1500 Swallow-tailed Kites soaring through the sky or foraging. While Lake Apopka is known for its bird population including hawks, herons, egrets, sparrows, and if you are luck the Painted Bunting you will also find a few massive alligators sharing the waterways, along with otters, snakes, turtles, raccoons and other wildlife.
The task of restoring the Lake and the wetlands around the lake is quite the undertaking. The historic pump house pictured to the left was originally used in the 1940's by farmers. It was responsible for drying out the wetlands making it possible to farm on. This caused the land to oxidize, and as a result of this, the land released phosphorous into the lake which created an unhealthy level of algae to grow causing the decline of plants and animals in and around the lake. Today, the pump house is still in use but with a completely different purpose. It's responsible for maintaining the correct level of water in the wetlands and also adds alum sulfate into the water. The addition of alum in the water improves water quality by binding things like dirt and sediment making phosphorous unavailable to the algae.
On this 11 mile stretch of land you never know what you'll see. The park has created a wonderful place for people to get out, and look around. Picnic pavilion right on Lake Apopka allow you to sit for a while and take in the beautiful surroundings. The park even has restrooms at the halfway point, while they are port-a-potties, they are very clean. If you were to drive right through and not really take the time to look for the animals I am sure you would say "ahh, there's not much to do there" but you are wrong...you have to actually look around, you have to set your phone down, you have to sit quietly, the birds, the gators, and the other wildlife will come around. I will admit...I had to somewhat force my love of the outdoors onto my 3 teenagers when they were younger, but I am glad I did. Watching them get out there and enjoy one of our most precious gifts is beautiful to watch. Here are my 2 eldest daughters sitting lakeside taking pictures. Now, most often, the pictures do turn into a modeling photoshoot for their Instagram accounts but hey, I will take what I can get.