16th Annual 'Take Pride in Lake Okeechobee" Total Success!
Clewiston, FL. March 2002-----.
This was my second year of involvement in working with the Corps of Engineers in South Florida at the annual "Take Pride in Lake Okeechobee" event. This event organized by the South Florida Operations Office in Clewiston, Florida, and headed by Team Leader Ranger Toni Westland, was the best one yet in it's 16 year history. Doug Harter and Ryan Peck, Corps Biologists brought new life with a Fishing Derby for the kids in this years event. Doug has been a big advocate for the health of Lake Okeechobee with his hard work in habitat construction and reconstruction projects on the lake.
Ranger Toni Westland stated, "Along with the support of area businesses, interagency relationships also blossomed! Support from South Florida Water Management District, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection- Bureau of Invasive Plant Management, Applied Aquatic Management, Helicopter Applicators Inc., and the new addition Florida Division of Forestry!"
The more involved everyone becomes the more our environment benefits form the combined efforts and this project seems to be bringing the cooperation together , something that we need more of among the government agencies that are given the task of managing our resources. Here the Florida Wildlife Officers are showing kids the boats used in enforcement and rescue operations on the lake.
For the first time this year there was a fishing derby for the youngsters and it was definitely a hit with with over 140 kids taking part. Doug Harter and Ryan Peck, biologists for the SFOO office in Clewiston, put together and managed the derby which was sponsored by a lot of companies from the fishing industry and the www.FishAmerica.org, who also donated $25,000.00 for habitat restoration on Lake Okeechobee in the past few years. Doug stated, "I can't believe how the fishing industry people all jump on board to work with any project that helps kids and the environment. It shows their dedication to not only the sport of fishing and boating, but their commitment to keeping the outdoors available for the future generations". With the help of the Clewiston Bass Anglers, the FWC, and others, it brought a lot of smiles to young faces.
The Clewiston Bass Anglers, a local bass club, had a booth manned by members giving demonstrations on fishing techniques and boating safety. Boats were on display from Roland Martin Boating Center and owner Harlan Griggs was there to show everyone all the wonders of today's high performance bass fishing boats.
It takes a lot of work from people like Ranger Toni Westland, Doug Harter, and Ryan Peck often beyond their normal job duties, to put together a program that excites the young people of our area and getting them involved in building a lifelong commitment to keeping our environment clean and healthy. I was pleased to see Col. James May from the Jacksonville District Office along with a good number of his staff, come all the way to attend and be part of the event. Col. May stated, "After 16 successful years, Take Pride in Lake Okeechobee has become a real tradition with many of our friends and families. Itís a great opportunity to share our interest in the lake and to pass along to future generations the importance of our natural environment. Our partnership with Walt and many others who generously donate their time and expertise makes this annual celebration a first-class event". Karen Estock, Chief of Field Operations, made sure that all the people working with her in Clewiston operations, had the resources in time and money to make the program work. Without the combined efforts of these people and the support of the Jacksonville District Headquarters, there would be no Take Pride in Lake Okeechobee event.
Ranger Westland also said, "I would also like to thank Indian Prairie Duck Hunters (IPDH) and the Big Lake Air Boat Club for taking time to organize lake clean-ups! For many years, these two clubs execute a major trash removal on the lake and this year was no different! The IPDH removed trash the weekend of Take Pride In Lake Okeechobee via the Indian Prairie Campground. On Sat March 9, the Big lake Air Boat Club with the help of Hendry County Sanitation removed trash from the Moore Haven area. These activities are critical for the health of the lake- thanks for another successful year."
I personally had the pleasure of speaking with a full house of young people about what it was like to fish Lake Okeechobee many years ago when it had not suffered from the influence of today's heavy population increases and what it was like to fish the national tournament circuits around the country. I was amazed at how many of the kids told me they had never been out in a boat on the lake even though they had lived beside it all their lives.
Tim Williams from Gatorland in Orlando held everyone's attention while he showed live alligators and snakes of all kinds that live here in South Florida. This was Tim's 4th appearance at Take Pride in Lake Okeechobee events and as always was a smash success.
In all the event showed a lot of young people as well as their parents, that the outdoors is a great place to relax and enjoy if we will just take the time and effort to keep it from being destroyed. The Corps of Engineers can certainly benefit from the positive public relations derived from the event and it also gives people a chance to visit one on one with those who have the daily responsibility of managing our natural resources. Given the fact that past history proves we must take a long a careful look at what we do to change the scheme of Mother Nature, the more input from a grass roots level to the persons making decisions, the better those decisions will be. My hat is off to the Corps of Engineers for a job well done again this year.
Reported by: Walt Reynolds
Quality Bass Team Trail
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission