Save Hiawatha Preserve - No Boatramp

Lake Minneola has become a popular destination for bikers, boaters, runners and swimmers.  From sunrise to sunset, people are seen at the Hiawatha Preserve taking advantage of the facilities. There are the daily walkers and the weekend runners; fishermen hoping to catch that big bass that got away and the nature lovers and photographers. Hiawatha Preserve is swiftly becoming the haven of tranquility and peaceful beauty.  It’s not uncommon to see an eagle glide by or an egret or blue heron wade in the waters. And for that reason, many folks object to removing hundreds of oak trees and replacing them with a boat ramp and parking area in this beautiful passive park.   As one person, familiar with the area said, “Clermont is loving Lake Minneola to death”.

Last week, a Clermont city consultant met with approximately 32 concerned citizens to explain why the existing boat ramp, located at the site of Victory Pointe, was to be moved to the Hiawatha Preserve. At this week’s council meeting, he presented a brief overview to the city council, categorizing concerns expressed at the informational session and breaking down the pros/cons at each site.

The original plan showed the boat ramp moving to the Bell site.  The Hiawatha Preserve was determined as the least desirable site for the ramp.  Since then a lot has been added to the master plan and Hiawatha Preserve has percolated to 1st choice for a ramp; the Bell site has dropped from 1st to 3rd choice and the city is slowly running out of choices.  In addition, the boat ramp must be moved to keep the Victory Pointe project on deadline.

The consultant advised council that the Master Plan is still consistent with its overall vision. However, vision or no vision, many of the people at the meeting believe that moving the boat ramp to the preserve is a BIG mistake.

Local designer and paddle board coach Steven Franklin agrees that the ramp should not be moved to the Hiawatha Preserve. “Boaters need more, not less.  Placing a boat ramp in a passive park does not suit the growing needs of our boaters”. He urged city council not to move with haste to meet deadlines.   Franklin presented to council a rendering of a new ramp at the “Bell” site that would increase parking and docking and enhance safety and boating facilities. The existing trail could be moved slightly to accommodate everyone.

Charlene Harrison Forth, a 4th generation Floridian, warned Clermont City Council not to take the last piece of Lake Minneola Wetland for use as a boat ramp. “You are taking one more piece of filter off the lake and once it’s gone, you can’t bring it back”, she heatedly proclaimed; adding, “We need to protect Florida’s Garden of Eden.  Boaters and locals are getting pushed to the back burner. Clermont should come first, not the people that come in on the weekends.  Relegating boaters to Hull Road and relocating the boat ramp to a passive park is making people mad”, she exclaimed.  She would like to see the boat ramp remain where it is or relocated to the “Bell” property.

Dawn Ferretti, whose parents live only 40-feet from the proposed boat ramp, gave an emotional plea on behalf of her elderly parents.  She begged to let her parents live in peace. She asked if any of the council members would support the site if they lived only 40 feet away.

Chris Davis, a long-time resident, mused that it was as if the city didn’t want a boat ramp and was attempting to move it as far from its shores as possible.  He asked Council, “When is it OK to destroy what Mother Nature gave us?   When is it OK to ruin the life of a property owner?  When is it OK to devalue the price of a home?  When is it OK to take your citizens for granted? We support the business owners, we support our city; and when the visitors’ leave, we will still be here.”

The Master Plan is supported by most. “The Master Plan makes sense, says a new homeowner in Clermont. The Victory Pointe – Storm Water filtration project make sense. Destroying the last of the wetlands on Lake Minneola does not make sense. Water quality is an economic driver and a last-minute decision, a sense of urgency by the City to move the ramp to a preserve, does not make sense”.

A homeowner who has lived on the west side of Lake Minneola for more than 40 years describes the proposed site of the boat ramp as only 5-6 feet deep. “Lakes fluctuate and the currents along the west side of Lake Minneola flow constantly north into Cherry Lake.  If the boat ramp is placed on the proposed site, the city will need to dredge forever to maintain the ramp….. not to mention corrupting our lakes”, he added.

At a recent Board of County Commissioners meeting, one of the county residents noted that the City is doing a lot of the right things but emphasized that Lake County needs to step in before the city destroys trees, habitat and the quality of water. He reminded them that Lake County was a large contributor to the city’s masterplan and needs to work with the City.  Sean Parks, a Lake County Commissioner representing south Lake County, agreed as did the other county officials.

Clermont city council members agreed that they will work with the County on opportunities to relocate the boat ramp, keeping in mind that the boat ramp will be closed in early 2018 regardless.

The relocation of the ramp will be on the council’s agenda Tuesday, September 26 at 6:30 pm.