WINTER GARDEN — A project that started with Orange County’s April 2007 purchase of 138 acres on the east shore of Johns Lake will result in a new park sometime next month.
After Orange County acquired that land — previously owned by Ronald L. Stucki — officials published a plan for the Johns Lake Conservation Area in September 2011, including plans for a public park with access from 880 Avalon Road (County Road 545).
From the western side of Avalon Road — just west of Black Lake and just south of Marsh Reed Drive — the southern boundary of the property extends straight west from Avalon Road at the stream that flows between Black Lake and Johns Lake. That boundary meets the western property edge in line with the point at which Avalon Road turns south from Johns Lake. The western edge ends even with Johns Lake Pointe Boulevard, which represents the northern border until the property runs east to the shore. From that point, the eastern border is a zigzag back to the northern side of the aforementioned stream.
Officials have planned for that park to open in August to try to maximize the time children could have to use the park throughout the day, before the new school year begins, District 1 Orange County Commissioner S. Scott Boyd said.
“I know they’re going to have a little fishing pier and a place for kayaks to launch,” he said. “We’ve been talking about how to best use the barn out there on the property, maybe as a pavilion. It’ll be a pretty neat little park for the community there, too. It’s a great little spot over there for people to come out and bring their families ... with different programs and things all tied into it.”
Among other planned offerings for this park are canoeing, hiking and observations of birds and other species of wildlife.
“There’s another park that’s out there on Johns Lake and not open to the general public; that’s in Lake County,” Boyd said. “That one and the one Winter Garden is working on will be the first green spaces like that. We’re partnering with Winter Garden on a little blueway to kayak from Johns Lake to the Winter Garden project up the road on (C.R.) 545 when they get moving.”
The purchase of this area was part of the county’s Green PLACE (Park Land Acquisition for Conservation and Environmental Protection) program, funded through public service tax bonds, general revenue, grants, partnerships with state and local agencies and the Conservation Trust Fund.
The mission of Green PLACE is “to preserve and manage environmentally sensitive lands, protect water resource lands and to provide a quality passive recreational outdoors experience for existing and future generations.”
Water from Black Lake and Lake Tilden flows to Johns Lake, which outfalls into Lake Apopka. This makes all important parts of local freshwater systems. As a result, Orange County has had to put in work to restore the area to a more natural set of species.
“I do know that it had a lot of cattle on it and flooded a lot back in the day,” Boyd said. “I know there was a lot of environmental discussion on getting that land.”
Undoing the resulting changes to hydrology, topography and the presence of species in the area have been among strategic goals for the county in a detailed restoration plan while it has owned the property.
Other strategies have been to protect endangered species, address climate change issues, manage forests and fires, develop a road and trail plan to access habitats, secure the property and implement standard operating procedures.