Press about Friends of Istokpoga



September 12, 2001


At the Florida Wildlife Federation's 64th Annual Conservation banquet held in Indian Rocks Beach on September 8, Friends of Istokpoga Lake Association, Inc. was honored as Conservation Organization of the Year for 2001.
The Federation's annual selection of conservationists is the oldest, and most prestigious conservation awards program in the state.  Award winners are selected from nominations made to the Federation's board of directors and are chosen for their dedicated efforts on behalf of Florida's fish and wildlife and native habitats.
Lake Istokpoga, the fifth largest lake in Florida, located in Highlands County may not be the most famous lake in Florida, but it is one of the best loved for its great bass and speckled perch fishing, its hunting and air boating, and its natural beauty.  A group of concerned citizens living around the lake banded together in 1998 to form "Friends of Istokpoga Lake Association, Inc."  Not only does this 28,000 acre lake support tremendous fish and wildlife communities, but it also provides for public recreation, flood protection, and agricultural water supplies.  
Bill Dwinell (the group's president) and Friends of Istokpoga Lake Association were
instrumental in the implementation of a $3 million aquatic enhancement of the lake during Spring 2001 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  Historically, Lake Istokpoga had undergone rapid changes to its plant communities since 1961, when water levels were stabilized for flood control and water storage.  As a result, floating mats of vegetation called tussocks and organic muck from decaying plant material accumulated on the bottom of the lake and on the shoreline.  The lake aged very rapidly due to the stabilized water levels which impeded the ability of the lake to cleanse itself.  Contractors removed millions of cubic yards of tussocks and muck in the Spring of 2001.  Members of the Friends of Istokpoga Lake Association cooperated by providing access to the lake and disposal sites for organic material. The lake will be allowed to refill, provided sufficient rain occurs.  
In presenting the award, Manley Fuller, President of Florida Wildlife Federation said "For the successful conservation and public education efforts to save their beloved lake, the Florida Wildlife Federation is proud to name Friends of Istokpoga Lake Association, Inc. as the Conservation Organization of the Year for 2001."
Photographs of the award ceremony will be available upon request from the Florida Wildlife Federation by contacting Diane Hines at (850) 656-7113.

                                    By Mary Carter

(Reprinted from the Fall 2000 Dip Net - A publication of the Highlands County Lakes Assoc.)

We cannot say enough about this group of volunteers who gave two years of their time to date to assist in hammering out a management plan for that lake. We could never have given the amount of time and input this group dedicated to this needy water body. Because of the formation of the Friends of Istokpoga Lake Association and the dedication of its leaders they were instrumental in providing information and guidance to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regarding the form of the draw down and their slot limit for large mouth bass in Lake Istokpoga. They were also in a position to keep the Highlands County Board of County Commissioners updated on these issues and advise them of the need for their support.

They provided invaluable input to the South Florida Water Management District in terms of their water supply plan-for the Kissimmee Basin, and provided comments to the US Army Corps of Engineers regarding their Central and South Florida Restudy and its impact on Lake Istokpoga. As our Lakes Manager reiterates, "they have raised the profile of Lake Istokpoga in the eyes of many important regional, state and federal agencies, while providing invaluable guidance to the County.

This is what The Highlands County Lakes Association hoped for when we veered from the path we had taken for so many years. This individual attention to a particular lake by the folks most impacted by decisions being made about it, has paid off. You are all, Barbara Bazley, Bill Dwinell, Paul Phypers, Marie Boley, Dave Boyer, Mike McMillan, Jim Wilkins, Bill Nielander, Mike Willingham and Lee Henderson to be congratulated for your dedication.

It is also the hope of the association, that they individual lake groups already formed and still forming will be the ones the agencies come to when they require input and assistance. This is the only way we can see to it that our lakes get the attention they so deserve. This is also why we, the Highlands County Lakes Association encourage our present members to join their own Lake Associations, if the decision to be made between our group and theirs is a hard one.