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Water paradise awaits in East Central Florida: the Clermont Chain of Lakes offers over 9000 acres of water surface with additional miles of canals and rivers. Eleven of the 13 lakes in the chain are connected with channels and with stretches of the Palatlakaha River that remain navigable to small boats. The other two lakes are connected to each other, but separated from through-boat traffic by a water control structure on the Palatlakaha River. Located a few miles southwest of Orlando, the Clermont Chain of Lakes is one of central Florida's hottest housing markets in the area and a popular destination for water sports lovers year round.
The larger lakes are popular for waterskiing and are densely populated with water lovers. The largest of the lakes are Lake Minneola (1,888 acres), Lake Minnehaha (2,298 acres), Lake Louisa (3,634 acres) and Cherry Lake (401 acres). All four are on the main portion of the chain along the river and easily accessed by water. Lake Winona (64 acres), Lake Palatlakaha (102 acres), Lake Hiawatha (49 acres), Wilson Lake (32 acres), Lake Susan (81 acres), Lake Crescent (122 acres) and Cook Lake (21 acres) are all peripherally-connected lakes either by river or manmade canal. Located near the town of Groveland, Lake Lucy (346 acres) and Lake Emma (173 acres) are often considered as part of the chain due to their location on the Palatlakaha River. The highest elevation among the lakes is a normal 97 feet at Lake Susan.
Palatlakaha Run, the longest water trail in the Lake County Blueways system, offers over 26 miles of paddling enjoyment along the chain. The deepest spots in the entire chain are about 26 feet with the majority considerably shallower. The unpopulated areas of the shorelines are wetlands harboring a wide variety of native wildlife. Attractive moss-draped cypress trees line the canals and shelter many of the shorelines-the perfect backdrop for a scenic kayak trip. The Clermont Chain of Lakes is one of the most pristine in central Florida, but water color varies according to water source. Some lakes are primarily spring-fed and clear, while others gain their water from nearby Green Swamp and offer water tinted by tannin. The brown color does not indicate poor water quality however, and these darker lakes are often preferred for swimming as the lack of light penetration keeps the water temperatures cooler than in clearer lakes.
Two marinas are located on the lakes, one at Lake Minnehaha and the other at Lake Susan. The marina at Lake Minnehaha offers some boat rentals and rental slips for local boaters, and Lake Susan sells boat gas. Several public boat ramps are located on the chain; some allow launching for a small fee, and many commercial facilities offer boat launching from their docks. The main boating lane north from Lake Louisa has directional signage for the convenience of boaters. A swimming beach is offered on the south side of Lake Louisa at Lake Louisa State Park. The lakes are well-known for being excellent fishing lakes, with smallmouth bass, redear sunfish, largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and channel catfish most often caught. Most of the lakes have fallen trees and dredge holes acting as fish attractants; these are marked by buoys. Several fishing piers offer shore fishing and access to the disabled. A Florida fishing license is required.
The City of Clermont is widely known as the 'wakeboarding capital of the world,' with a year-round camp dedicated solely to teaching the skill of wakeboarding. Clermont has a boat ramp and public beach at Waterfront Park on Lake Minneola and offers rentals of bicycles and kayaks to access both the chain of lakes and the many trails in the area. The South Lake Trail, popular with walkers and rollerblade fans, is a 'Rails to Trails" path that connects to the West Orange Trail. Half- and full-day paddling tours can be arranged here from the rental facility. The Great Clermont Triathlon is held here each year, taking advantage of the water and trails in the area. The towns of Clermont, Montverde, Minneola and Groveland offer several forms of lodgings to suit the visiting Lakelubber. Chain hotels join small resorts, campgrounds and RV parks to house visitors, while a few weekly private rentals can also be found. Real estate is mostly upscale, with new gated communities being developed every year. Many small unusual shops and artisan galleries offer the best of eclectic shopping, while cafes and restaurants cater to every taste.
Lake Louisa State Park holds about 60 full-service campsites and two primitive camping areas suitable for tent campers. Several equestrian camping sites offer convenient access for horse owners who enjoy the horseback trails in the area. A boat ramp and picnic grounds make this a popular spot to access the chain of lakes, while four other lakes in the park are available to non-motorized fishing boats. The park is relatively new and shade trees are still small, so there isn't currently much shade but it is improving with every year of growth.
Currently, the Clermont Chain of Lakes is suffering from years of extended drought and the changes brought about by population growth. Lake levels have been considerably below normal for several years. In addition, unwanted algae growth began to appear. Serious study in the past three years has discovered several issues that are causing many of the problems. In addition to low record rainfall, a number of roads built for agricultural purposes had diverted some of the available water away from the chain and into a nearby river watershed. Sporadic heavy rains falling on Green Swamp washed excess nutrients into the lake chain, and almost 200 storm water drainage tiles were directing nutrient-heavy storm run-off into the water without treatment. Changes are now underway to pre-treat storm run-off before it enters the lakes, and future building projects will be more cognizant of the area's delicate hydrology. There is little that can be done to alleviate the prolonged drought, usually part of a historic ten-year cycle. It is expected the the Clermont Chain of Lakes will recover when the cycle of drought ends. And the local population will now know how to best deal with it.
So, come visit the beautiful Clermont Chain of Lakes. Bring the waterskis and the fishing gear.
* Statistics for these lakes are often contradictory. The acreage figures used are those most commonly reported, while the few elevations and depths come from the Lake County Water Atlas. Statistics listed in the sidebar information are for Lake Louisa only.
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