Our retirement goal was to see the world and COVID has seriously clipped our wings. Feeling restless but trying to be cautious, we have planned some short trips around Florida the next few months for a change of scenery and the chance to see something new. We booked our site on Lake Okeechobee a few weeks ago, something that would have been harder to do last minute in years past when far more snowbirds would be here, especially the birds from Canada. So far our planned field trips are Monday - Friday, because the locals still have booked everything up on the weekends. It's been hard to plan even these small trips, because you never know what attractions are open and if it is safe to visit them at this point in COVID. Shortly before we left, Florida friends who live in Sarasota, phoned to invite us to go camping with them. When we told them we were leaving the next day, they hopped online and were able to book the site right next to us at an Army Corps of Engineers site on Lake Okeechobee. Some things are meant to be.
If there's a major body of water in our country, you can rest assured that the COE has worked on it, building dams and barriers for flood control and creating opportunities for recreation. Sometimes referred to as Florida's inland sea, Lake Okeechobee is central to a region of Florida historically known for its agriculture, but in recent times also equated with superior fishing, boating and trails. We drove through miles of sugar cane fields and orange groves as we neared the lake.
The second-largest freshwater lake entirely within U.S. boundaries is contained by the Herbert Hoover Dike built in 1928. Waterways on either side run into the "Big O," as the lake is called, making it part of a 152-mile boating passage way through the middle of the state known as the Okeechobee Waterway.
In 1926, the Great Miami Hurricane hit the Lake Okeechobee area, killing approximately 300 people. Two years later, the Okeechobee Hurricane crossed over the lake, killing thousands. Both catastrophes were caused by flooding from a storm surge when strong winds drove water over the six foot mud dike that circled the lake at the time. After the two hurricanes, the Okeechobee Flood Control District was created to authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in actions to prevent similar disasters. U.S. President Herbert Hoover visited the area personally, and afterward the Corps designed a plan incorporating the construction of channels, gates, and nearly 140 miles of levees to protect areas surrounding Lake Okeechobee from overflow. The Okeechobee Waterway was officially opened on March 23, 1937, by a procession of boats which left Fort Myers, Florida on March 22 and arrived at Stuart, Florida the following day. The dike was then named the "Herbert Hoover Dike" in honor of the president.
We are camped at a small dam and locks system on the Caloosahatchee River, where boats traveling west from the Atlantic side leave the lake for the final push to Fort Meyers and the Gulf of Mexico completing the trip from coast to coast. This journey is primarily taken by pleasure craft. Many of them linger along the way to fish; one of largest largemouth bass ever caught was captured here. The Ortona COE campground is immaculate and each site has a covered table and a fire ring. To really feel like you are camping, a fire is always required. It's a great spot to catch up with our friends out in the fresh air.