Week 1: An introduction to Lake Apopka

My name is Joshua King and I am a senior at the University of Central Florida, majoring in English Literature. This blog will document my Fall 2015 internship, working with the Friends of Lake Apopka. Using the RICHES of Central Florida interface, I will be digitizing the Friends of Lake Apopka archives located at the Oakland Nature Preserve in Oakland, Florida.

The FOLA archives hold material relating to the environmental history of Lake Apopka and the decades-long battle to end pollution of its waters, and restore the lake to a healthier state. The FOLA archives hold material from as early as the 1930s, but the vast majority of documents are from post-1991, when FOLA was formed. These documents include scientific studies of the lake, eyewitness accounts of pesticide discharges and fish kills, the personal correspondence of those involved in these issues, and newspaper clippings revealing the public perception of the lake and its problems. These documents each reveal their specific facet of this environmental history, and taken together, a narrative emerges.

The story of Lake Apopka is often ignored in enviromental histories of Florida, overshadowed by the more public battles over the Everglades. Lake Apopka’s pollution problems were so severe that restoration was often put on hold in favor of more achievable goals. Lake Apopka was seen as an example of unchecked pollution, a warning of the dangers of eutrophication and fertilizer runoff – not an environment that could be saved.

The FOLA documents show, however, a history of attempts to save the lake. The earliest organized effort would have been under Claude Kirk’s tenure as governor of Florida, 1967-1971. Kirk formed the Lake Apopka Restoration Council, at the urgings of his aide, Nathaniel Reed. Reed would go on to become something of an enviromentalist legend in the state of Florida, participating in conservation battles across the state, and even in Washington, where he served in two presidential administrations. Included in the FOLA archives, and possibly nowhere else, are the weekly reports of the Restoration Council, and correspondence between Reed and Orange County locals concerned for the lake.

The Friends of Lake Apopka themselves were formed in 1991, spun off from a subcommittee of the Western Orange Chamber of Commerce devoted to ending agricultural pollution in the lake. The Friends formed in response to proposed changes by the St. John’s River Water Management District that would allow the Zellwood farmers, on the north shore of Lake Apopka, to continue farming (and polluting) for another ten years. Unwilling to accept this, FOLA began their campaign to end this pollution and begin restoring the lake.

This is only a brief introduction. I have worked on this project for several months already, and have digitized files from the 60’s up to 1996 – so there’s a lot of history to post about. In conjunction with my digitizing of the physical documents, I write metadata entries that allow the digitized items to be searchable and accessible through the RICHES of Central Florida interface. A few have already been uploaded as of this writing – with hundreds more to go.


Week 1: An introduction to Lake Apopka