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UN Restoration Road Trip

The demise of Lake Apopka was foreshadowed when the Apopka-Beauclair Canal was constructed in 1893. The new canal lowered the 50,000-acre lake by three feet, exposing the shallow northern portion of the lake. Then in 1941, farmers constructed a levee across Florida’s second largest lake to drain the top 20,000 acres, creating muck farms to grow vegetables during World War II. Long considered the largemouth bass capital of the Eastern United States, Lake Apopka went from an angler's paradise to Florida's most polluted lake over the next 50 years.


Muck farmers could generate three crops a year rather than their traditional one crop per year. That productivity led to an enormous nutrient loading in the remaining 30,000 acres of lake. 50 years of nutrients from the farms, wastewater from nearby towns, and byproducts from citrus processers created repeated algal blooms and turned the lake pea green, killing all native aquatic vegetation.



While there was outrage and many calls for action in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, little was done. In 1991 biologist Jim Thomas founded the Friends of Lake Apopka (FOLA), whose sole mission was to advocate for the restoration of Florida's fourth largest lake. In 1998 the state legislature spent $100 million to purchase the muck farms, thus ending the primary source of nutrient loading into Lake Apopka. St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) spent the next 25 years restoring the muck farms to natural wetlands.


Biologists use parts-per-billion of phosphorus as a key barometer of the lake’s health.

  • at its worst, Lake Apopka was almost 300 ppb

  • today the phosphorus level is down to 55 ppb

Key initiatives that drove 25 years of SJRWMD restoration efforts included:

  • converting 20,000 acres of muck farms into natural wetlands

  • creating a 760-acre Marsh Flow Way that naturally filters 40% of the lake’s volume water every year

  • removing a million pounds of gizzard shad from the lake each year

  • increasing native submerged aquatic vegetation

As the lake recovered, ecotourism has flourished.


  • birdwatchers flock to the new wetlands on the North Shore where 360 species of birds congregate in the winter during migration.



  • the 11-Mile Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive was opened in 2015 and attracts almost 200,000 visitors per year.

  • In 2024, bicycling trails around the lake will be connected to create a safe 42-mile cycling route around Lake Apopka.



  • Fishing effort on Lake Apopka has more than doubled in the past few years. Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has stocked the lake with more than a million bass fingerlings.



We have made amazing progress in the last 25 years and the restoration of Florida’s 4th largest lake continues.

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