Trout Lake Nature Center History
The history of Trout Lake Nature Center is one of dedication and volunteerism. Beginning as a vision of the Ocklawaha Valley Audubon Society (OVAS) members in 1985, the Center has become a thriving and vital place dedicated to environmental education and conservation.
OVAS obtained land which had been part of the Haselton Dairy Farm during the 1960’s, from Jean Lenkerd and Tom Haselton. With the addition of donated land from the City of Eustis in the form of a conservation easement, Trout Lake Nature Center became a reality.
A Long Range Development Plan was drawn up. The decision was made by OVAS to incorporate the venture as a 501[c]3 non-profit corporation called Trout Lake Nature Center, Inc. (TLNC).
Title was transferred to TLNC, Inc. An architect drew up plans for a layout including an entrance roadway, parking area, building site and pond.
Charles Newell Hall opened as a museum and community meeting place for education programs and special events.
TLNC began offering school field trips. The response by the county schools was so enthusiastic that it soon became necessary to train volunteers as docents to guide children through TLNC.
It soon became apparent a larger meeting space was needed and both TLNC and OVAS committed to the effort to build the present Environmental Education Center. Fundraising ensued to match the grant of a total of $60,000, available over a four year period, from Lake County Parks and Recreation Department. The grant was one of the capital improvements funded from the county’s extra penny sales tax. More and more, Lake County schools realized the value of TLNC’s student programs and, once again, TLNC responded. Fred Michels, president, enlisted donations and raised the matching funds and a building construction committee was created and chaired by Walt Gunkel, the new building was completed in 1997. Further fundraising and volunteer work completed and furnished the interior.
Newell Hall had become the Newell Hall and Museum and another grant of $10,000 was obtained to further develop the museum’s collection of mounted wildlife specimens native to central Florida. To accommodate the needs of the Lake County schools, a curriculum was written by a team of teachers for the TLNC school field trip program. The curriculum matched the Sunshine State Standards and TLNC’s instructors began using it in the fall of 1999. Since then, the curriculum has been updated on an annual basis to remain current with the Lake County schools.
A TLNC committee chaired by Bernie Yokel, drew up a Strategic Plan to keep on course and plan several years ahead.
Until February 2001, everything at TLNC was done by volunteers. With funding for a part time Naturalist/Volunteer Coordinator from the Lake County Water Authority, TLNC benefited from a professional staff person to guide the programs and volunteers.
The Naturalist/Volunteer Coordinator position expanded to a full-time post and two part-time positions were added an Administrative Volunteer Coordinator and an Outreach Volunteer Coordinator.
When the economic recession hit in 2005, plans were terminated for a new Museum Building to replace the existing double wide trailer known as the Charles Newell Hall and Museum. This took place after architects, land planners, numerous committees, professional fund raisers were put to work under the guidance of Ron Macfarlane and president, Dr. Robert Hart.
Under the leadership of Hugh Kent, president, a new Strategic Plan was adopted by the Board of Directors. The plan guides new programs and projects. Also, the Naturalist/Volunteer Coordinator was upgraded to Administrative Director/ Naturalist.
The Board of Directors adopted a long range Land Use Plan. This, along with the Strategic Plan, will be used to guide TLNC’s growth into the future. Current building plans are to establish a loop road providing additional parking and better access to the property. At the same time, TLNC will tap into the City of Eustis sewer system, eliminating the two above ground septic tanks currently in use.
Former naturalist retired and first Executive Director was hired.
Membership in TLNC is encouraged. TLNC functions separately from OVAS with its own officers and board. OVAS members have access to the facilities for meetings and events. Many supporters maintain membership in both TLNC and OVAS.
Throughout its history, TLNC developed through the efforts of many individuals and organizations. OVAS members, more than any others, provided fundraising and volunteers. The property was fenced, an access road was engineered and built, and nature trails were created. The Center is open to visitors and offers guided walks led by volunteers. The Kiwanis Clubs in Lake County built the first building, the picnic pavilion.