I have driven the Lake Apopka North Shore Wildlife Drive, hiked the former Clay Island Loop Trail and mountain biked the Lake Apopka Loop Trail…which is only half a loop. For all its potential beauty, I probably should have titled this, “Lake Apopka; Unnatural Disaster.”
Florida’s 3rd largest lake, once a prize-bass fishing haven, has been a dead lake for decades. Restoration efforts have fallen grossly short of the mark. To this day, signs warn visitors that the pesticide DDT is “persistent” in the environment and “No Fishing; Fish may not be suitable for human consumption.” Awesome. Be sure to bring the kids.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some beautiful views of Florida’s spine, the Lake Wales Ridge, as it rises beyond the western shore. Birds, alligators, snakes, flowers — they’re all there, too. Except you have to feel bad for them, knowing the damage they’re suffering from all the chemicals.
That being said, I encourage you to experience it yourself, so you can see firsthand why environmental protection is so important. Maybe – just maybe – you’ll be outraged enough to vote only for politicians who truly support environmental needs. I look across this lake and the wetland restoration and imagine what it must have been like with clear blue water, teaming with wildlife and vegetation.
Oh, and be sure to avoid going on a hot summer day. If restoration crews are stirring up the muck, particularly in the Clay Island area, you better have either a strong stomach or very poor olfactory senses. Not a place to stop for lunch.
One last bit of advice: There is precious little shade along the biking/hiking Lake Apopka Loop Trail. I got seriously overheated, despite having plenty of water, and my face burned lobster red. Temperatures had been relentlessly in the 90s for weeks. It was supposed to be raining on and off all day, so I counted on cloud cover and cooling drizzle. The further I rode, the more the skies cleared, so when I needed relief the most, none was to be found.
The Photo Gallery tells a bit of the story, or you can see many of the same pictures in the slideshow below. If you’re looking for other great places to explore, check out our Bucket List, Where-to-Go and Florida Mountain Biking. The main thing is to get out there and enjoy Florida’s Natural Wonders.