“Sometimes I think I’ve figured out some order in the universe, but then I find myself in Florida.” Susan Orlean
Five nights at Lake Rousseau RV Resort, the self-described Purveyors of winter warmth & summer shade, gave us quality time in the area; so, let me tell you a little about Florida and Lake Rousseau. In the RV park, there is a quaint marina on a small canal nestled between large trees dripping with Spanish moss. It provides access to the 3657-acre Lake Rousseau. Given the abundance of summer storms, the old wooden docks were covered in a slippery mix of freshly fallen rain water and algal slime. Various types of small fishing boats, a few with questionable sea worthiness and plenty of spider webs, barely disrupted the view of the sunrise over the lake. In the evening, the warm light of the setting sun bathed the large wall of tree canopies that lined the eastern side of the canal. The camp host made a point to remind us on a few occasions that this is where you come to visit and never leave. I can see why, it’s very inviting, especially while enjoying a chilled glass of white wine and watching the sun’s reflection disappear into the evening.
Lake Rousseau is not a natural lake, it is a reservoir created from the damming of the Withlacoochee River over 100 years ago. It is living proof of the constant struggle between man’s desire to make Florida inhabitable and the very thing that makes us come here in the first place, the water. The Inglis Dam was initially built for the thriving phosphate mining industry; appropriately, the nearby town Dunnellon once had the distinction of being the “Phosphate Center of the World.”
Eventually, a lock was built on the dam for the proposed Cross Florida Barge Canal, a water route to connect the Gulf with the Atlantic and basically cutting Florida in half. Several times over the decades, construction was halted as quickly as it started as government funding came and went. At one point, construction moved along under the guise of national security. In the 1960s construction began again while environmentalism gained influence. Consequently, efforts to stop the canal led President Nixon to sign an executive order in 1971 that officially cancelled the canal project forever. Over time, land and water were turned over to the state and became the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, named after the woman who led the opposition to the canal.
Florida’s history is saturated with these kinds of tug-o-war politics. Florida is a land of convoluted power struggles between developers, big agriculture, the government, environmentalists and sportsmen, but there’s nothing more influential than mother nature herself. Lake Rousseau is a very popular fishing destination. Unfortunately, 11 months earlier Hurricane Irma caused the Withlacoochee River to flood. The waters became depleted of oxygen, killing 35,000 fish as estimated by Florida’s Wildlife Commission. During our visit, the local fishermen were beginning to see a comeback after seeing so many dead fish appear on the shoreline. A come back is inevitable, after all bass are prolific breeders and it only takes a few pair to repopulate the large lake, according to an FWC expert.
Comebacks from storms are common occurrences here in Florida, I witnessed that firsthand several times, most recently on Chokoloskee Island following Irma’s destruction. Storms come and go, wildlife take a hit but somehow survive and people continue to flock to Florida. Shortly after leaving Lake Rousseau, I learned that it had become a blue-green algae site, one of many recently. Those prolific breeders making a comeback in the waters of lake Rousseau have yet another battle, this one largely due to the hand of man.
As the sun set over the lake, I steadied the tripod near the edge of the water to photograph a piece of old Florida where many come to visit and never leave. No matter who ends up winning; Big Sugar or Captains for Clean Water, Florida and Lake Rousseau will continue to exist, there will be many more photographs of beautiful sunsets and many more fishing boats on the water at sunrise. Florida is evidence that we want it all, we want our water, we want our fish, we want our natural beauty and we want our comfortable homes; preferably all in the same location.
You can see more of my Florida photographs at my website.