SPRING HILL — The county recently completed its long-planned work to restore Hunters Lake, much to the pleasure of waterfront homeowners and those who appreciate the lake's exceptional bass fishing.
The restoration employed aquatic harvesters that scooped up and removed 15.5 acres of floating islands of vegetation called tussocks. They were not benign patches of grass, but massive mats of moving obstructions that prevented boats from accessing the county's largest lake. It measures 430 acres when the water is high.
"All that stuff is gone that was out there,'' said lakefront homeowner Jack Kunz. "That's what we wanted.''
Kunz said he stood on his dock as the harvesters passed with a big thank you note to the workers. Some of his neighbors with bigger boats still don't have full lake access, he said, but with his small boat "it's just fine for me.''
Keith Kolasa, the county's waterways manager, last week gave the Hernando County Commission an update on the work. He showed before-and-after photos of the lakefront and a video of a harvester pulling out tussocks. He pointed out good fishing areas once again open for boaters.
"Some of the lake was becoming stagnant,'' he said, "and that is not good for fish health.''
The county removed 14 acres of tussocks, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission pulled up another acre and a half, Kolasa said. The county cost was $121,010, with $68,250 of that paid to Texas Aquatics, which provided the harvesters. The rest of the county expense was for county public works employees to prep the site, pile and dry the tussocks, and restore the site.
Workers staged the effort on the property of the Pasco-Hernando State College, which earned the praise of commissioners. The location allowed quick access to the lake for the large harvesting equipment.
At the end of the project, the county hauled off the mountain of dried vegetation to a county-owned site to use as compost.
The work pulled a total 3,000 yards of material out of the lake.
"That's a lot of nutrients we removed from that lake, a lot of phosphorus and nitrogen,'' Kolasa said. "It's just a great project overall.''
Commissioner John Allocco smiled when he said Kolasa allowed him to see the harvesting work up close on a tour of the lake.
"That was pretty impressive,'' he said. He was surprised with one aspect of the lake.
"There are some huge eels in there,'' he said.
"People used to smoke them and eat them,'' said Commissioner Wayne Dukes, who pushed the project and recommended using monies from the county's environmentally sensitive lands fund to pay for the work.
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Dukes explained another interesting aspect of cleaning up tussocks. "They move,'' he said, requiring harvesters to chase them around the lake to remove them.
He recently had dinner with a friend who now has his lakefront view back.
"I hadn't seen that in 15 years,'' Dukes said.
Kolasa said the improved lake will help the state college in another way.
"The college biology teacher plans to start doing some class work down there,'' he said. Biological sampling on the lake also is planned.
Commissioners voted unanimously to renew an agreement with the college, allowing five more years of use of the college's lakefront property.
Kolasa said that would help if the county secures grant money to clean out more tussocks or do other maintenance on Hunters Lake.
Hunters Lake goes through cycles, Kolasa said, but boaters using the lake will help keep vegetation down.
Harvesters were not able to remove a huge tussock behind the lakefront home of fishing enthusiast Eric Walasek. He has to drag his boat across additional property to access the river.
Walasek, a seven-year resident, and other neighbors will have to dig into their own pockets to complete the work if no other county funding becomes available. But he is happy that some of the good fishing areas are open again.
"They did a good job,'' he said, "but I wish they had done more.''
Contact Barbara Behrendt at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.