Lake Lillian gets a lift
A four-year mission to restore a piece of Winter Park’s natural beauty is officially a success.
City officials and residents gathered at Mead Botanical Garden last Thursday to celebrate the restoration of one acre of the Lake Lillian wetlands, as well as a new boardwalk path opening to the public.
Mead Garden was able to revitalize a piece of wetlands by cleaning out the muck and trash, removing invasive species and bringing new plant life to the outer rim of the lake.
“Over these fours years there have been many individuals and organizations who have had a hand in making this happen,” said Cynthia Hasenau, executive director for Mean Botanical Garden Inc. “I would have said four years ago that wetlands aren’t too much to look at. I knew they had a benefit, but the more I learn about them, the more in love I am with wetlands. They keep our water clean, they provide a habitat for our wildlife and we are so grateful to have a boardwalk that will allow us to get up close and look at what’s going on in the wetlands.”
The effort to restore the piece of wetlands behind the amphitheater at Mead Garden began back in 2012 when the garden received $40,000 from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They would later add an additional $10,000 of funding.
At that point restoring the chunk of wetlands was only a dream, but Mead Garden was able to move the project forward when they received $400,000 from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in late 2014.
“Winter Park is an oasis, we talk about that many times,” Mayor Steve Leary said. “In this special place, it reminds us how lucky we are to call Winter Park home. This is one of the favorite spots in the garden – you’ll see wading birds, turtles, bay trees, plants and everything seems to be right within reach. It’s enjoyable.”
Hasenau said that the Lake Lillian wetlands were used as a dumping ground for decades. Workers pulled up everything from tires and chain-link fences to old Christmas decorations during the cleanup process.
City and Mead Garden officials also cut the ribbon on a new boardwalk that runs through the wetlands – paid for with leftover funding from the lake restoration project. Mead Garden was able to build nearly 300 feet with that funding, while splitting the cost of the remaining 120 feet with Central Florida Environmental Corporation.
Mead Garden originally had another boardwalk path built in the 1990s, but it was destroyed during the 2004 hurricanes. The new 400-foot stretch of boardwalk will once again give visitors the close look at the nature that the garden is known for, Hasenau said.
“This southern loop of the boardwalk is a wonderful way for people to really experience the wetlands,” she said. “Mead Garden is really known as a migratory bird stop off – we have many, many birds that come to stop in the garden. People come from all over Florida to bird watch. This gives them a chance to see them up close.”
Hasenau said that there are still many acres of Lake Lillian Wetlands that have yet to be restored. Mead Garden caretakers, she said, will continue to work with Winter Park’s Public Works Department to see what their next step will be.