Over 370 species of birds have been sighted over the years, more than any site in Florida including the Everglades
From Orange Audubon Society
Celebrating six years since the St. Johns River Water Management District opened the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive to the public, Orange Audubon Society will offer visitors on May 1 a chance to learn how to better identify birds seen along the drive and how to safely spot alligators, bobcats, otters and other wildlife.
Nearly 150,000 visitors a year enjoy exploring the drive. To commemorate the drive’s sixth anniversary, volunteers will be stationed at the pavilion near the historic pumphouse, two miles from the entrance, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to help with bird identification and offer wildlife viewing tips.
“We’re proud of the drive’s success and the incredible educational opportunity it offers residents and visitors,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “Still, it’s important to understand that the drive is just one of the many benefits of the numerous restoration projects under way to improve Lake Apopka’s water quality and natural systems.”
Once part of Lake Apopka, the 20,000-acre Lake Apopka North Shore was diked off and drained and put into agricultural production in the 1940s. The farms were acquired by the District between 1996 and 2001 with the goal of reducing nutrient-rich discharges to the lake. In addition to protecting water quality, these lands provide water storage and critical wetland functions. The popular 11-mile one-way drive was carefully designed to traverse existing farm levees to provide optimal wildlife viewing opportunities of both the recovering wetlands and lake.
The drive is open on days that District staff and contractors are not carrying out Lake Apopka restoration work — Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and most federal holidays. Any day of the week visitors may hike or bicycle the 18-mile Lake Apopka Loop Trail. Details for visitors, including an audio tour, can be found on the District’s website at www.sjrwmd.com/lands/recreation/lake-apopka.
Since July 2020, Orange Audubon Ambassadors have been at the welcome shelter near the entrance gate each Saturday and Sunday to provide maps and tips for first-time visitors.
Over 370 species of birds have been sighted over the years, more than any site in Florida including the Everglades. The Lake Apopka North Shore has been designated an American Bird Conservancy Globally Important Bird Area, a National Audubon Society State Important Bird Area, an Audubon Florida Special Place, and is on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. In the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s online program in which birders record their sightings, the Lake Apopka North Shore is now the top eBird hotspot in Florida.
Facebook pages and groups, the District’s self-guided audio tour, informative brochures developed by the District and Friends of Lake Apopka, and Orange Audubon Society’s educational kiosks with links to web information all help visitors to identify the wildlife and understand the lake restoration process.
Like all District properties, the Lake Apopka North Shore, including the wildlife drive, is free to visit. However, the District often receives questions from individuals interested in contributing directly to the drive’s upkeep. The District welcomes online donations to support sanitation, recreational maintenance, security, and visitor brochures and maps.
Any weekend throughout the year, you can see many out-of-state plates on the Wildlife Drive, and these people buy gas and supplies, eat in restaurants, and stay locally, which brings in ecotourism dollars.
For the May 1 event, Orange Audubon encourages visitors to stop by its station near the pumphouse with questions. For additional information, contact Orange Audubon at 407-637-2525.
If you go:
- The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays. The drive is closed on other days due to ongoing restoration work.
- The entrance gate opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m. to allow visitors time to complete the drive and exit the property by 5 p.m.
- The one-way drive begins at 2850 Lust Road in Apopka and exits onto Jones Avenue in Zellwood.
- Due to its popularity, 10 mph speed limit and limited pullover opportunities, visitors are recommended to allow over two hours to travel the 11 miles.
There are limited places to park and walk.
See www.sjrwmd.com/lands/recreation/lake-apopka for maps and more information and https://www.facebook.com/pg/lakeapopkawildlifedrive for photos.
Orange Audubon Society (OAS) is a 55-year old chapter of Florida and National Audubon Societies with 2000+ member households in Central Florida, dedicated to promote public understanding of, and an interest in, wildlife and the environment that supports it. For OAS’ Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Ambassador Program and other volunteer efforts, the St. Johns River Water Management District recently awarded OAS the Bob Owens Award for Volunteer Service. For more about Orange Audubon Society, see www.orangeaudubonfl.org.