Not all heroes wear capes and jump over buildings — some of them just wear many hats and want to see the restoration of Florida’s natural resources.
The Friends of Lake Apopka recognized Oakland Nature Preserve President Jim Peterson at its Thursday, Dec. 5, meeting at ONP for his work to restore Lake Apopka by presenting him with the inaugural Jim Thomas Environmental Hero Award.
FOLA President Joe Dunn spoke about Peterson’s efforts as a leader and biologist with the St. John’s River Water Management District.
Peterson has served as the president of the Oakland Nature Preserve for four years, working on the grounds, fundraising, leading hikes and advocating for environmental education.
He also serves as FOLA’s science adviser and helps his wife, Karen — an elementary school teacher — develop science projects for her classes.
“No one gives more of himself to the environmental well-being of the Lake Apopka Basin,” Dunn read during the award presentation. “Jim Peterson is truly a man for all seasons and FOLA is extremely fortunate to benefit from his intelligence, generosity and passion.”
Peterson said he was thankful to be recognized.
“I’m definitely surprised — I appreciate it,” he said. “I’m here because I care about this place and care about the lake. … We’re all here because of Jim Thomas.”
Thomas is an environmental biologist who helped organize FOLA alongside a steering committee in 1991. Thomas also was present at the Dec. 5 meeting to see the presentation of the award.
“Jim Thomas is a lion among environmental leaders,” Dunn read during the award presentation. “He has worked tirelessly for more than 30 years to improve our region’s environmental health. ... His battle cry is ‘science not politics.’”
Years ago, Lake Apopka was once a fishing paradise known for its trophy bass. But starting in the early 1940s, Lake Apopka endured nearly five decades of pollution along its shores because of nearby farming operations, creating one of Florida’s most polluted lakes.
After it was founded, FOLA appealed to agricultural interests to change farming practices and sought public support to restore the lake. Today, the group continues actively advocating for a healthy lake by supporting efforts for recreational trails and access to the lake.