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Lake George is the second largest lake in Florida, second only to Lake Okeechobee. Lake George is also the largest lake on the St. Johns River, about 12 miles long, 6 miles wide, and covering about 46,000 acres. The St. Johns River meanders slowly northward about 300 miles on its way to the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville. Lake George lies in four counties about midway along the river's course: Volusia, Putnam, Lake, and Marion Counties. Drayton Island is a large private island at the north end of the lake, serviced by a small public car ferry.
Though covering a large surface area, Lake George is shallow with depths ranging from 3 to 12 feet; the average depth is about 10 feet. The shallow waters are due to the area's fairly flat terrain and the low velocity of the St. Johns River. The river drops only 30 feet along its 300 mile journey, thus earning its reputation as one of the "laziest" rivers in the world. Because the river flows so slowly, salt water from the Atlantic Ocean influences the river for hundreds of miles upstream. Therefore, the waters of Lake George are variably brackish, supporting both freshwater and saltwater fish and plant life.
Lake George is a popular central Florida fishing lake with numerous fish camps and facilities located mainly along the northeastern shore. Known primarily for its population of largemouth bass, anglers are also rewarded with catches of striped bass, crappie, bluegill and shellcracker. The salt content of Lake George is high enough to sustain a large blue crab fishery that supports the local economy. During periods of low rainfall, saltwater species making their way up the St. Johns River to Lake George include stingrays and an occasional shark.
The Ocala National Forest, covering 383,000 acres, borders the western shore of Lake George. Ocala is the most visited of Florida's three national forests. Three springs located in the national forest feed into the lake through Salt Springs Creek, Silver Glen Springs Run, and Juniper Springs Creek. The Ocala National Forest Recreation Areas offer vast resources for outdoor enjoyment, including fishing, hiking, camping, boating, canoeing, swimming, mountain biking, horseback riding, and hunting. Hikers can choose from leisurely loop hikes to the arduous 67-mile backpacking hike along the Ocala portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail. The Salt Springs Observation Trail is a 2-mile hike with an observation platform for viewing herons, egrets, osprey, eagles, and alligators. Canoe rentals are available at Juniper Creek and Salt Springs Creek for leisurely paddling through palms, cypress, and southern hardwoods.
The U.S. Navy's Pinecastle Impact Range is located within the Ocala National Forest. Under a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service, the Navy has used 5,760 acres within the forest since World War II for target practice.
The Lake George Wildlife Management Area (WMA) borders the eastern shore of Lake George in Putnam and Volusia Counties. These 39,000 acres consist of three separate properties operated as a single WMA through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The St. Johns River Water Management District is the lead manager of the Lake George Conservation Area, the northernmost 11,682 acres. Volusia County is the lead manager of the 7,800-acre Lake George Forest, located just south of the Conservation Area. The largest section of the WMA is the 19,684-acre Lake George State Forest that borders the southeastern shore of the lake and is managed by the Florida Division of Forestry. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has jurisdiction over hunting and fishing in the WMA.
Outdoor activities take center stage in the Lake George Wildlife Management Area: hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing, bicycling, horseback riding, hunting, and primitive camping. (Camping is not permitted during gun season.) The WMA provides access to Lake George with two boat ramps, a canoe launch, and a fishing pier. The area's mixed hardwood swamps and pine flatwoods provide ample wildlife viewing, including Florida black bears, Sherman's fox squirrels, gopher tortoises, bald eagles, bobcats, alligators, hawks, herons, otters, owls, ospreys, wild turkeys, and white-tailed deer. The WMA is also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.
Lake George State Forest is home to the Bluffton Mound and Midden at the Bluffton Recreation Area. The early Florida Indians inhabiting the area created large mounds of freshwater shellfish that were later discovered by 18th and 19th century explorers. The mounds provided an archeological window into the lives of Florida's earliest inhabitants. Visitors can still view remnants of the mounds, although much of the shellfish remains was excavated for material to build roads.
The Lake George Restoration Group began with lakefront property owners concerned with water quality issues. Today, the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assist the Group with sedimentation removal, weed control, fish production, and improved water quality efforts.
What are you waiting for? Pack your bags for the Sunshine State, and set your GPS for Lake George. Vast natural resources will provide endless hours of fun both on and off the water.
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