The Friends of Lake Apopka environmental organization has bestowed its fourth annual Jim Thomas award to Dr. Erich Marzolf. The Jim Thomas Environmental Hero Award was presented at the Dec. 6 FOLA board meeting, held at the Oakland Nature Preserve.
Marzolf has been actively involved in restoring Lake Apopka since 1996 when the State Legislature authorized the St. Johns River Water Management District to purchase the North Shore muck farms and restore them to wetlands.
“Dr. Marzolf and Jim Thomas worked closely to create the inertia necessary to repair 50 years of environmental abuse,” said Joe Dunn, immediate past president of FOLA. “No two people have done more to save Lake Apopka than Jim Thomas and Erich Marzolf.”
The Jim Thomas Environmental Hero Award honors recipients who exemplify the passion and commitment of Thomas, founder of FOLA, and who contribute to the continued restoration of Lake Apopka. The first three recipients were Peterson, FOLA science advisor and ONP president, 2019; Betsy VanderLey for her work in helping connect the West Orange Trail to Magnolia Park, 2020; and Daniel Whitehouse and Scott Bisping for creating and organizing the FOLA Fish Tag Challenge, 2021.
“I’m just honored to be recognized, and I accept it for all the district staff current and retired who have put their talents passion and energy into the restoration of the lake,” Marzolf said. “This is an extraordinary team effort, so it isn’t just me (taking care of) all of the stuff that has been accomplished. It also means a lot to me because FOLA is such a longstanding effective advocacy group, and so to be associated with them and have my name in the same breath as Jim Thomas’ is really an extraordinary honor.”
Marzolf holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology from Colorado College. He earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in ecology from the University of California Davis. Most of his career has been spent on the protection and restoration of the water resources of Florida.
The Florida Lake Management Society has recognized Marzolf with the President’s Award three times, and he has received the Edward Deevey Jr. Award, given to an individual for contributions to the scientific understanding of Florida’s water bodies.
Marzolf began his career with SJRWMD in 1994 and joined the Lake Apopka project in the very beginning with the Lake Apopka North Shore purchases.
“Erich’s knowledge of data management software was quickly appreciated because the study of the North Shore involved enormous amounts of data that had to be organized and analyzed,” the honor read. “Erich not only became the data expert of the project, but he became instrumental in decision making as the restoration proceeded.
He worked for a few years as a limnologist, supervising scientist and program manager at SJRWMD before moving to the Suwannee River Water Management District, where he was the division director of water resources. He returned to the St. Johns district in 2015. Marzolf is responsible for directing the district’s aquatic sciences, as well as land and water resource management activities.
Marzolf has been involved with all aspects of the Lake Apopka restoration, and he leads tours and presentations that have become popular.
“His method of describing restoration projects as ‘diet’ and ‘exercise’ have become legendary in the scientific community,” the honor read. “Erich is not only a deep thinker, but he is also accomplished at thinking outside of the box.
“We appreciate all that Erich has contributed to the restoration of Lake Apopka and look forward to his continued involvement and guidance,” FOLA officials said. “Dr. Erich Marzolf is truly a Friend of Lake Apopka and an environmental hero in the mold of Jim Thomas.”