Neighbors Unite to Restore Little Lake Jackson

May 1, 2017

The people who live in a neighborhood that borders a small isolated arm of Tallahassee’s Lake Jackson are trying to restore the body of water to its original pristine state.

The current state of Little Lake Jackson, showing the areas of open water that were once covered with a thick mat of vegetation.
Credit Tom Flanigan

The neighbor who’s spearheading the project is Bruce Deterding. The area under restoration used to be an open expanse of clear water that sits just to the west of U.S. 27 along the southwestern corner of the larger Lake Jackson. Although virtually unknown outside the immediate neighborhood, it’s a place thousands of motorists drive by every day.

“Capital Circle starts up there and goes right down here,” Deterding pointed out. “So it’s all along that side and on this side there’s a housing project with nice lush, manicured yards and the fertilizer and other stuff rolls off of there.”

Deterding explained that runoff, in addition to many years of drought, is the cause of most of Little Lake Jackson’s decline over the years. All the runoff-borne nutrients and other pollution sparked a relentless growth of hydrilla and other invasive plants that replaced most of the free water with thick mats of vegetation. About 18 years ago, Deterding, who then worked for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, tried to reverse the situation. He cleaned up part of the lake bottom and enlisted the state Division of Forestry to do a controlled burn of the uprooted plants. Leon County quickly slapped him and the Division with a fistful of code violations.

“The county’s really never done anything but use it as a drain pond,” he said. “I think that’s why in retrospect why they were concerned about me doing anything down here because they didn’t want that coming to light. But they haven’t really pursued me this time at all. They’ve been really cooperative and (just) charged me for a permit.”

Meanwhile, Deterding has managed to enlist the help of other area residents to the latest lake restoration effort, despite the neighborhood’s modest circumstances.

“Most of these houses are either rentals or single-family residences and they’re blue-collar people a lot of them. They’re all on board with it. Some are able to contribute and some are not.”

In the past few years, Deterding said those contributions have totaled an impressive sum.

“I’d say it’s probably been over $20,000 I know. The harvester that was out there was over $100 an hour and together several of us homeowners threw in on that, but still we were paying about $3-4,000 apiece.”

Deterding had special gratitude for his neighbor and nephew, Timmy Harrell. Along with a significant contribution of his own money and time, Harrell also brought his dump trucks and earth-moving equipment into the equation. Deterding said that has been critical to both the past and future of the project. Those efforts have had an impact. There are now expanses of open water where masses of plants once choked the twenty-five acre lake bottom. Best of all, Deterding pointed out, wildlife is slowly returning.

“This is a haven for wildlife and it’s always been. And I’m not just talking about what you see on top, I’m talking about things that are underneath, too that we can’t see. There are otters out here, fish and other things in just this little section in just this short period of time.”

Deterding admitted a lot more needs to be done.

“We do want to get the harvester back when it gets deeper and first build a channel to the deep water and then go out from there. And there are aquatic weed killers and things like that we can use, but it’s too wholesale at this point and you don’t want to use massive amounts of that stuff even though they say it’s environmentally friendly and doesn’t affect the wildlife.”

He and the neighbors have a goal for the ultimate future of Little Lake Jackson.

“I’d like to see a sandy bottom lake like it was. I’d like to see a lot of input on here from the county’s efforts – or negligence – I’d like to see it like it was in the 50s and I don’t know why it can’t be, certainly with the efforts of the people around here we’re approaching that again.”

That harkens back to the early days of the Republic when, if there was no government to do something that needed done, folks got together and did things on their own.