Lake Hiawatha Preserve's first phase officially opened last week to a crowd of almost 200 people. Outgoing Clermont Mayor Hal Turville performed his last major role in dedicating the passive park before retiring from city government.
Members of the City Council, South Lake Chamber of Commerce, County Commissioner Sean Parks and the former owners of the property were on hand for the dedication.
The property, once owned by the Pool family, was formerly an orange grove. Robert (Bob) Pool, Jr., a former Clermont Mayor and County Commissioner, told the audience the family did not want the land to become another subdivision.
The orange groves covered the property until the 1980's when freezes killed off the trees. Although the family had been courted by developers but preferred to work with the city to preserve the area.
Pool said the family had unanimously decided to see a park built on the land.
Turville said the city worked to get the grant money to develop the park noting it cost Clermont very little compared to the overall cost.
Councilman Keith Mullins pointed out the area is a "passive park."
"There are no ball fields or tennis courts here," he told the crowd. "It's a place where you can learn and enjoy nature."
To date, the city has only prepared 15 of the 220 acre site. Phase one includes the playground and dog parks. That section is named the Homestead. Architect Alex Busto of Gator Sktch explained the city wanted the structures to look like an old Florida homestead.
The original drawings were done by Roger Pierce and later completed by his firm. The buildings utilize cypress for its moisture tolerance and metal roofs to replicate the look of the old buildings.
Phase 2 of the park will be built on the Lake Minneola Side of 12th Street (CR561) according to City Manager Darren Gray. "That area is in the design phase and construction should begin shortly."
The area will include additional rest rooms, fishing pier, pavilion, floating dock and an area to launch kayaks and canoes.
He added the pedestrian bridge for the new addition to the South lake Trail should be complete in the next few weeks and planning for Phase 3 should start next year.
Phase 3 will include more trails, additional dog parks, an overlook and butterfly habitat.
Lake Hiawatha Preserve is located on N. 12th Street north of the Palatlakaha River Bridge.