This week, I am focusing on writing metadata entries for documents from 1967. This is a significant year for Lake Apopka history, marking the first organized effort to understand the problems facing the lake and identify possible solutions.
Contained within the FOLA archives is a letter from Arthur Sinclair, executive secretary of the Winter Garden Chamber of Commerce, to Florida gubernatorial candidate Claude Kirk, explaining the problems Lake Apopka faced and requesting State assistance in restoring the lake. Dated July 13, 1966, sent while Kirk was still campaigning in Miami, this may have been the first time Kirk was made aware of the Lake Apopka issue. Kirk’s response is also in the archives, sent from his Director of Research, Sally Cameron. She states Kirk is personally concerned with the issue, being an “avid fisherman” himself, and that Lake Apopka will be added to a list of Kirk’s conservation programs.
Claude Kirk would go on to win an upset victory over Robert King High later that year, becoming Florida’s first Republican governor since the Reconstruction era. Among his staff was Nathaniel Reed, who served as a “Conservation Aide”. Reed would take a major interest in Lake Apopka and personally spearhead the efforts to begin restoration of the lake.
On April 18, 1967, Kirk held a meeting involving “all Lake Apopka interests” in Tallahassee. From this discussion, the Lake Apopka Technical Committee was formed, with representatives from a dozen or so state agencies and chairmanned by C.W. Sheffield, director of the Orange County Water Conservation Department.
Sheffield’s first action as chairman was to form a Citizen’s Committee, consisting of “interests around the lake”. The Citizen’s and Technical Commitees met jointly on April 20. A copy of the minutes of this meeting is within the FOLA archives. It shows the meeting was an attempt to decide on a “level of restoration” acceptable to these various interests. Most of the groups agreed that the lake be made habitable again for game fish. (A level of restoration that would allow skin-contact recreation, like swimming or water-skiing, was felt to be unrealistic).
On May 10, the Technical Committee set acceptable standards for various chemicals & nutrients in the lake. They also identified the major sources of pollution entering the lake. The FOLA archives contains this data.
Finally, the Committee set a rough plan for restoration of the lake. Their main goal was a major task – completely isolating the muck farms on the North Shore from the lake with a brand new levee. This levee would leave a stretch of water between the farms and the lake that the farms could pollute to their heart’s content.
Some of their other goals were promoting fish habitats through the placing of limestone “fish cribs”, and isolating the Gourdneck Springs area with another levee. The springs are in the southwest corner of the lake, and they are shaped rather like the neck of a gourd. This is the only spot where clean spring water directly enters the lake. By isolating this section, the water therein would be vastly cleaner than the rest of the lake, and the Committee planned to use it as a fish nursery.
None of these goals were ever realized. The farm levee idea seems unfeasible. The farms were using almost 1/3rd of the lake’s volume yearly. There’s just no way to section off enough water for the farms to keep operating as they did. The Springs, too, were never sectioned off. They’ll come up again, though, in the 1970s and 80s. By this time saving the lake seemed unfeasible, and attempts were made to purchase the land surrounding the springs to make them into a protected State park. This would also fail.
To end on a semi-positive note: here’s a photo from Lake Apopka’s heyday. This couple was fishing at the Killarney Fish Camp. The Apopka fish camps, like Killarney, were world famous for their bass fishing. I’ve read that Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart visited. The FOLA archives has dozens of photos like this.