Description - Lake Okeechobee is a Seminole Indian words meaning "big water." Though somewhat shallow, averaging about 10 feet in depth, the lake covers over 730 square miles or 467,200 acres.
Copyright: Patty Elton-Interactive Outdoors, Inc.
The alligator's body is suited for both land and water
When the Seminole Indians migrated from Georgia and settled in the region, lake water was replenished not only by rainfall, but also with the water draining from more than 3,000 square miles of the Kissimmee River Basin to the north. During summer's rainy season the lake spilled over its southern shore, sending water south in a slow-moving sheet through acres of sawgrass to the end of the peninsula and out to sea. When the region was wilderness, this posed no problem. Years later when two hurricanes devastated bordering communities, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers became involved in South Florida's water management. By 1937, Okeechobee Waterway crossed the state between Stuart on the east coast and Ft. Myers on the west coast. This waterway provided a way to release floodwaters and opened South Florida to commercial and recreational boat traffic. The Corps then constructed Herbert Hoover Dike, a flood control levee that circles the lake. A series of canals, water control structures and pump stations form a complex water management system jointly managed by the Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District. Future endeavors include flood control, navigation, water supply, and recreation, in conjunction with fish and wildlife enhancement.
- As lake, waterway and surrounding countryside, Okeechobee shows many faces of Florida. A canopy of moss-draped live oaks hides clusters of sabal palms. A tangle of water plants marks the boundary where wetland meets lakeshore. A lone alligator suns on a riverbank in a deceptively calm moment. Wild birds take flight in a sudden explosion of motion. Between the muted pastels of dawn and brilliant display of sunset, Okeechobee is for all who love the outdoors.
Birds, fish and wildlife bring thousands of visitors to Okeechobee each year, but the abundance of wildlife would not exist without the wetlands that border the lake's southern and western shore. This 3 to 8 miles wide strip of land, called the littoral zone, is the foundation of Okeechobee's ecosystem.
The area is an essential habitat for waterfowl, both resident and migratory. It is a food source and nesting ground for wading birds such as ibis, herons, and woodstorks. Okeechobee is also home to diving birds including cormorants and anhingas. Along the lakeshore or waterway, eagles and caracaras may be seen nesting in the high trees. Four groups of reptiles are represented in the area. The alligator is probably the most well known and recognized but many kinds of turtles, lizards and snakes abound, along with the amphibian frogs and toads. Manatees, though mammals, are included in the world of water creatures.
The Okeechobee Waterway is not only a 152 mile convenient commercial waterway link between Florida's coasts, but also an ideal cruising ground for recreational boats offering protected water, peaceful anchorages, and pleasant shore stops. The Corps manages five locks along the route and lockage is a simple procedure, ordinarily taking 15 to 20 minutes. Since many people enjoy watching the boats lock through, park rangers offer guided tours of the facilities. The waterway is divided into three distinct sections: the St. Lucie Canal, Lake Okeechobee, and the Caloosahatchee River.
Recreation - Several waterfront campgrounds are found around the lake and along the waterway. The parks can be reached by land or by water and are available year-round. The Corps manages campgrounds at three of the waterway locks: St. Lucie, Ortona and W.P. Franklin. At St. Lucie and W.P. Franklin, boat-in camping is possible. Water and electric hookups are available.
Picnic facilities are open for day use year-round. Launch ramps are located around the lake and waterway, many offering lakeside picnic tables.
Lake Okeechobee has a fine reputation for excellent fishing. More than 40 species are found in the lake. The most sought-after are the largemouth bass, blue gill, black crappie, and the famous Okeechobee catfish. Several saltwater species including tarpon and snook travel the waterway to W.P. Franklin and St. Lucie locks.
The Corps maintains a self-guided nature trail, which identifies many native plants near the St. Lucie lock. In addition, dedicated hikers and bikers can follow a section of the Florida National Scenic Trail that utilizes Lake Okeechobee's Herbert Hoover Dike.
Two Seminole Indian reservations are located close to project boundaries and throughout the year, many community festivals reflect the diverse cultural heritage of the region.
Climate - The eastern coast of central Florida is usually hot and humid with thunderstorms throughout summer. Average summer temperatures range between 81 and 83 degrees Fahrenheit (27 - 29 Celsius). Winters are mild and dry with temperatures averaging 58 - 64 degrees Fahrenheit (14 - 18 Celsius). Typical yearly precipitation ranges from less than 52 inches to about 56 inches. Lightweight clothing and sunscreen are highly recommended during the summer months. Sweaters and jackets are appropriate attire in winter.
Lake Okeechobee is located in the heart of Florida's central region between Interstate 95 and 75.