The Return of Orange Lake, Lake Lochloosa and Cross Creek – February 2006
After so many years of drought with associated dropping aquifer levels that allowed sinkholes to open and reduce our lakes to dry mud holes in a few short weeks,
it is my great pleasure to inform you that the lakes are back!
For several months though, huge mats of windblown aquatic weeds clogged access to the lake keeping
several of the fish camps from opening, and rendering some boat ramps unusable.
Using machinery to chop up the plants, and with favorable winds, the camps finally opened. At first, airboats, then, small fishing boats,
and now almost everyone can get out and enjoy these wonderful waters. The fishing is starting to come back, and the flocks of
birds are a welcome sight indeed.
I am now running eco, birding and photo tours starting in Cross Creek,
and exploring both Orange Lake and Lake Lochloosa,
where we sight flocks of glossy ibis, herons, bald eagle, moorhens, osprey, egrets, sand hill cranes, anhinga, and cormorants.
I have also spotted very large amorous otters, and, of course, abundant large alligators.
Within the last few weeks, the water levels have dropped a few inches due to a lack of rain- and if we have another long dry
spell, I would not be surprised to see the lake draining again. But for now, it is wonderful to see the fish camps back in
business, the birds busily hunting and soaring, and people quietly fishing. The only downside to all this tranquility are the
airboats – loudly roaring through the aquatic habitat…. so I suggest a trip during the week when their numbers are fewer.
(I won’t go into my thoughts on airboats – this is supposed to be an upbeat article…)
I did not believe, in my lifetime, that I would see
our waterways return to what they once were. However, in the late summer and early fall of 2004, Florida had four hurricanes
sweep the state. Some areas had as many as three hurricanes in as many weeks. Here in North Central Florida, we had two hurricanes -
Frances and Jeanne -that dumped over 21” of rain. The thirsty aquifer started to rise to near normal levels, allowing Orange Lake,
Lake Lochloosa and Cross Creek to accommodate the highest water levels seen in many years. Suddenly, instead of looking out over
weeds, we actually had water above the docks and marinas.
So for the time being, we are enjoying our lakes again, and I invite you to come out and bring your camera and binoculars. When
you come to Cross Creek, plan on stopping off at the famous Yearling Restaurant and visiting the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home site.
Cross Creek has a public boat ramp and park next to Rawling’s old homesite on CR 325 – west of RT 301. You can also launch at the Cross
Creek Lodge, right by the bridge, across from the Yearling. Canoes and small boats can be rented at the Twin Lakes Fish camp, on the west
side of the creek – follow the signs near the bridge.
There is a public boat ramp on the west side of Orange Lake off RT 441 at Heagy-Burry Park – and several fish camps are open in McIntosh,
or off RT 318 on Orange Lake’s south shore.
Boat ramps are also available on the east side of Lake Lochloosa on RT 301.
Give me a call, and we can set up a tour that suits you. Winter, early spring and fall are the best times for the migrating birds, but
the lake is beautiful all year around. Hope to see you soon!
Captain Peggy Guided Tours
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