Reed: Hidden Waters Preserve offers unique hiking trails
By Rick Reed
EUSTIS – One of my favorite places in all of Lake County is a truly unique and spectacular 90-acre tract called Hidden Waters Preserve in Eustis. The differences in elevation and a 40-foot ravine carved into the hillside is not typical Florida.
The mini-canyon has been cut by water that travels underground west from Lake Joanna. The run waters an unusual slope forest and depression marsh at the bottom of the sinkhole. This gem is included in the state-wide birding trail network and birders have recorded over 35 species during the winter months.
Purchased in 1996 by the Lake County Water Authority, the preserve is an ongoing project of restoration from what was once a golf course to a native sand hill community by LCWA staff, which is adding native wildflowers and trees to the property while removing invasive plants.
The 90-acre tract was part of the Lake County Country Club, which had a relatively short run - opening Jan. 24, 1922, and closing in the 1940s. A Facebook page of the Friends of Hidden Waters Preserve mentions rumors that the country club was closed when the sinkhole destroyed part of it.
Officially called the Eichelberger Sink, the property later spent time as a citrus grove but was destroyed in the freezes of the early '80s. The LCWA acquired the property because this environmentally-sensitive land needed protection from garbage dumping and being vandalized.
Groundwater and seepage from nearby lakes flow down the ravine and into the sinkhole lake, called Lake Alfred, which flows into the Floridan aquifer.