Joel Jackson’s conservation efforts for 50 years have had a lasting impact on the region’s quality of life. Recently, the Nature Center at Lettuce Lake Conservation Park was renamed in his honor. By B.C. Manion email@example.com I t’s fair to say that visitors to Lettuce Lake Conservation Park, at 6920 E. Fletcher Ave., in Hillsborough County, enjoy myriad as- pects of its offerings. Some like to hike. Others, to watch birds. Some are there to check out the native plants and flowers. Still others find pleasure in climbing to the top of the observation tower to gaze at the scenic views. Families go there to picnic. School children take field trips there, to learn. Some visitors enjoy a stroll, or jog, along the 1.25-mile paved trail. These are the kinds of things that Joel Jackson envisioned when he sat down to design the park, which marked its 40th year of operations in October. “I had three objectives, when I designed this park,” Jackson said, in a recent interview. “One, was to make it an interesting and enjoy- able place to come visit and experience nature. “No. 2, was environmental education. “And three, (was to preserve it) for future gen- erations,” Jackson said. He started planning the conservation park, in northeast Hillsborough County, from scratch. “There was no park here at all. It was just a piece of land. So, I had a blank slate here, which was very exciting to me,” Jackson said. Jackson paid attention to every detail: How the land would drain, where the parking should go, the amenities that would appeal to people of dif- ferent ages and with diverse interests. He wanted to be sure this was a true nature park. The paths should meander. The parking lots should be small, situated in different spots around the landscape. Indeed, it is a nature park. The Hillsborough River runs through it, and more than half of its acreage lies in the natural flood plain, which consists of a hardwood swamp forest. The rest of the park features hardwood ham- mocks and pine flatwoods plant communities. There are wooded picnic areas and play- grounds, a paved 1.5-mile exercise trail and a 3,500-foot boardwalk, with an observation tower. Originally, the park called for 117 acres. Jackson said that was too small, so he secured additional funds that enabled the park size to be doubled. The funding source for that land also required it to be conserved, in perpetuity. “This land, for hundreds of years, should still be here,” Jackson said. JACKSON HONORED The design of Lettuce Lake Conservation Park is just one of many contributions Jackson made dur- ing his career, which included stints with the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County. He was honored on Aug. 31, in a special cere- mony, where the nature center at Lettuce Lake Park was renamed the Joel E. Jackson Nature Center. Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise hosted the celebration, which included remarks from Jack Berlin, of the parks and conservation board, and from Hillsborough County commission- ers Harry Cohen and Mariella Smith. Their comments were recorded in audio files by Hillsborough County staff, provided at the re- quest of The Laker/Lutz News. “His accomplishments are a testament to his unwavering service to Hillsborough County, its res- idents and especially, its natural resources,” Wise said, during the ceremony. Berlin told those gathered: “It would take hours to go over this man’s legacy. “ Even now, Berlin said: “He volunteers more hours than I do. Still, he wows me with his vision. “What he’s done for Hillsborough County con- servation and the regional parks, and everything he’s done — is permanent. It will be here for our kids, our grandkids, our grandkids’ grandkids,” Berlin said. Commissioner Cohen said he became acquaint- ed with Lettuce Lake Conservation Park when he joined the county’s hiking spree last year. “As a result, I went from park to park on the dif- ferent hikes. One Sunday afternoon, I came out here to Lettuce Lake Park, and I have to tell you, I was blown away. “I had never been here before and I started coming back. And, I didn’t end up finishing the hik- ing spree mainly because I just kept coming back to Lettuce Lake Park, over and over and over again,” Cohen said. He described the park’s many attributes, includ- ing its abundant wildlife. “You can get a close look at some of the area’s most striking birds, the reptiles, mammals and in- sects, as well as colorful flowers and plants,” Cohen said. “You can attend a birding walk, hosted by the Tampa Audubon Society, or a native plant tour, led by the Suncoast Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society,” Cohen added. The nature center, which now bears Jackson’s name, offers visitors a chance to learn about all of the flora and fauna. “This center is a fantastic place to take children to show them the importance of the environment and just to have fun,” Cohen said JACKSON’S VISION HAS LEFT A LASTING MARK Commissioner Smith lavished praise upon Jackson’s many contributions to the region’s quality of life. “It’s a day of celebration for someone who has dedicated his life to our county’s parks and pre- serves, and then has continued volunteering, even in retirement, to protecting our environment and helping people enjoy our natural resources. “Mr. Jackson has been an influential and distin- guished leader of the Hillsborough County Conservation movement since 1969, when he be- came a founding member of Save Our Bay. This group was formed to prevent the proposed dredg- ing and filling of nearly 2,000 acres along the Upper Tampa Bay shoreline. “That Save Our Bay group kickstarted the local environmental movement that gave birth to our Agency on Bay Management and went on to galva- nize efforts to protect Tampa Bay, and our wetlands and natural resources. “In the 1970s, Mr. Jackson became a parks and recreation planner for the City of Tampa. After sever- al years in this role, he was hired by Hillsborough County to become our parks planning section man- ager, which was a tremendous gain for our county. “Ten years before we had an ELAPP (Environmental Lands and Acquisition Protection Program) to preserve our environmental lands, this county had a parks bond program. Joel Jackson oversaw that program, and under his very wise stewardship, we gained several large, beautiful parks that preserve natural areas — keeping what was special and unique about each place, while provid- ing access and facilities to the public to enjoy them. “Between 1977 and 1983, Mr. Jackson managed that $10 million parks bond program. You could do a lot with $10 million back then. “It established three new natural resource bay parks, Upper Tampa Bay Park, Lettuce Lake (Conservation) Park and Alderman’s Ford (Nature Preserve) and renovated several others, including E.G. Simmons (Conservation Park), Eureka Springs (Conservation Park) and Edward Medard (Conservation) Park, and these are all natural won- ders. They’re spread throughout the county and each one is a gem, wonderfully well-planned by Joel Jackson, to make the most of its own special charac- teristics and to share these marvelous places with the public. “During this time, it became clear to Mr. Jackson that public land acquisition was one of the few ways to ensure long-term protection of our valu- able, natural lands. “His efforts to preserve the 1,500-acre Bower tract from development in the early 1980s played a key role in the creation of Hillsborough County’s Environmental Lands and Acquisition and Protection Program, that’s ELAPP.” The ELAPP program became a model for the en- tire state of Florida, she said. “Mr. Jackson, congratulations. Your name is syn- onymous with our beautiful parks and conservation lands, and renaming this nature center here at Lettuce Lake is a perfect tribute to you that will cer- tainly inspire others throughout the years,” Smith said. Jackson was clearly moved by the outpouring of appreciation of his work, and by the people who showed up to honor him. “I’m really overwhelmed today,” he said at the event. In a later interview, he said, he is touched by the nature center being renamed in his honor, as well as by the ceremony and accolades. “I’m thrilled with it,” Jackson said. “I didn’t ask for this, but I certainly appreciate it, and Barbara (his wife of 53 years) and I, will cherish it for the rest of our lives.” The legacy of his work will go on for generations Nationally Recognized Orthopedic Care At AdventHealth Wesley Chapel, we’re moving orthopedic and spine care forward. Using the latest innovations and minimally invasive techniques for joint replacements and highly specialized spine procedures, we provide comprehensive care for knees, hips and every joint in your body. Take your first step to feeling whole at WesleyChapelOrthoExperts.com. Take your first steps to pain-free. Scan the QR code to learn more. NOVEMBER 2, 2022 The LAKER / INSIDE: Directories, Classifieds, Games & More Lutz NEWS B.C. MANION Joel Jackson stands near the sign that signifies the nature center at Lettuce Lake Conservation Park has been renamed in his honor. About Lettuce Lake Conservation Park WHAT: Lettuce Lake Conservation Park, a 240- acre park operated by Hillsborough County WHERE: 6920 E. Fletcher Ave., just outside the Tampa city limits, between Interstate 275 and the University of South Florida COST: Admission is $2 per vehicle; up to eight people per vehicle. WHEN: The park is open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., in the spring and summer; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., in the fall and winter. DETAILS: Lettuce Lake Conservation Park is one of Hillsborough’s most visited parks. The Hillsborough River runs through it, and more than half of the park’s property lies in the natural flood plain of the river, consisting of a hardwood swamp forest. The rest of the park consists of hardwood hammocks and pine flatwoods plant communities. The park features wooded picnic areas and playgrounds, a 1.25-mile paved exercise trail and 3,500-foot boardwalk with an observation tower. Canoe and kayaks rentals are available. INFO: Call 813-987-6204. COURTESY OF JOEL JACKSON Joel Jackson captured this image of an osprey in flight at Lettuce Lake Conservation Park. COURTESY OF JOEL JACKSON You might catch a view of an alligator, during a visit to Lettuce Lake Conservation Park, at 6920 E.