An estimated 35,000 people visited the Oakland Nature Preserve in the last year, including a former Antarctic climate researcher, said Jennifer Hunt, director of the preserve.
Hunt presented this and other facts during a Fiscal Year 2022-23 update to the Oakland Town Commission at its Aug. 8 meeting.
“It’s good seeing those numbers good and steady for us,” she said. “We are pleased to have those solid numbers.”
Local students are among the many guests who take part in programs offered at ONP. Several schools routinely take students on field trips, including Oakland Avenue Charter School, which takes every student during the school year starting with fifth-graders and ending with the kindergartners.
Innovation Montessori Ocoee also takes its fourth- and fifth-graders twice a week, logging more than 800 student days. ONP expanded its homeschool program to age 16, too, and in the last year, 240 homeschoolers visited the preserve.
Summer camp continues to be a popular program, with all six weeks filled to capacity. Participants learned about bats, birds, bees and history this year, and a production company donated its time and helped students make stop-motion videos.
Seven high school students received $20,000 in scholarships through the Youth Climate Project, funded by a local foundation and administered by ONP. They were tasked with completing research and creating a three- to five-minute video. The program has been funded for the 2023-24 year.
Key to keeping the preserve operating smoothly are the 430 people who donated more than 6,000 hours in the last year. The youngest was a 7-year-old. In addition, eight Boy Scouts completed Eagle Scout projects and one Girl Scout completed her Bronze Award project out there. She said she hopes to see more Girl Scouts elect to do their Bronze Award projects at ONP.
“We could not do what we do without our volunteers,” Hunt said.
Multiple events drew large crowds: Nature Fest has about 700 visitors; the two-day Pumpkin Glow and Jack-o’-lantern Trail brought 1,900 guests; Oakland Heritage Day drew in several thousand people; 206 guests attended Pours at the Preserve; and Bubbly on the Boardwalk sold out all 100 tickets.
Story time, firefly hikes, Blue Trail hikes and yoga at the lake were among the popular programs also held at the preserve. On the restoration front, more than 1,000 trees were planted, and more than 3,000 native plants were put in the ground.
ONP houses the last fishing cabin that was on Lake Apopka and is embarking on a restoration project on the building’s foundation. The organization has applied for a matching grant in hopes of securing $45,000 to complete the foundation, replace the roof and work on the interior.
Mayor Kathy Stark thanked Hunt for the update and expressed her gratitude to Hunt for her hard work at the preserve.
“We saw today that Oakland Avenue Charter School was Top 5 in the science FCATS, and that is due, in large part, to the program at the Oakland Nature Preserve,” Mayor Kathy Stark said. “The ONP is the finest thing we are going to leave for generations to come, and I am appreciative to everyone’s work at the nature preserve.”
PICKLEBALL INTEREST CONTINUES
Two residents appeared before the commission to open dialogue concerning additional pickleball courts. The facilities at Speer Park are frequently in use, and residents would like to see more space devoted to the sport.
“We have always talked about additional pickleball courts, and we realize noise intrusions is the biggest challenge with the pickleball courts,” Stark said. “Our Capital Improvement Program, which (Town Manager Andy Stewart) put together, is a great opportunity to put on the list things we can plan for. … I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon, and our budget is tight this year, but it’s definitely on the list of things to consider … if we can just figure out the noise thing. You have our commitment that we will put it on our CIP.”
GOLF CART EDUCATION
Resident Kevin Cox requested discussion on the golf cart rules after learning his neighbor was pulled over and given a warning for driving his golf cart across Oakland Avenue. This street is not golf cart accessible, but the adjoining street on which he was traveling is.
“I don’t see that crossing (Oakland Avenue) is the intent of the law,” Cox said. “Obviously, I’m not going to take the golf cart down Oakland Avenue. I don’t believe the Florida Statutes say you can’t cross Oakland Avenue.”
Police Chief Darron Esan said he has started an education campaign and has directed his officers to educate golf cart drivers instead of issuing tickets.
“It’s not enforcement; we’re not here to ruin anybody’s day by writing a ticket for a golf cart,” he said.
Esan also said town staff is looking into adding golf cart crosswalks at the east and west sides of the town.
IN OTHER NEWS
• The Oakland Town Commission approved the consent agenda at the meeting. This included a revised paid-time-off policy for staff at Oakland Avenue Charter School, a quit-claim deed for the property at 532 W. Sadler Ave. to be donated to West Orange Habitat for Humanity, and an acceptance of utility easements at 17528 and 17502 Killarney Cove Drive to provide connection to the town’s water system for the latter address.
• Commissioners passed the first reading of a resolution that approves the final plat for Oakland Park Unit 7 South. This phase will have 70 single-family homes. This extends the subdivision to the west from Unit 6B-3, where Eaglecrest Drive currently comes to a dead end, and to the north of the Winters Landing neighborhood.