Lake Wauburg overcomes obstacles and celebrates its centenary with Music at the Lake

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Neither tornado nor pandemic could stop Lake Wauburg’s centennial celebration.

September will mark 100 years since the University of Florida acquired the North Shore Lake property, an outdoor recreation center and community staple eight miles south of campus.

Plans to celebrate the anniversary, in the works since 2018, were nearly thwarted by a 2019 tornado and the COVID-19 pandemic, yet hundreds of people gathered for Music at the Lake on Saturday, kicking off Sending Centenary Months of Festivities.

The preparation was not child’s play. The tornado destroyed about $300,000 worth of property and equipment, said Amber Larkin, associate director of outdoor recreation at UF RecSports.

While some structures are still being rebuilt, Larkin said the site has largely recovered. However, two years of COVID-19 restrictions left Larkin and other members of the lake’s centennial committee unsure whether the celebration could materialize.

Larkin led the planning — three similar events are scheduled for April 16, July 4 and Labor Day — and said she was thrilled to see the first be a success.

“I love that people can come here and they can disconnect from all their responsibilities and then reconnect to themselves,” she said of the lake’s enduring value.

Lake Wauburg was named — though misspelled for some reason — in honor of Frederick Warburg, who immigrated to America in 1821 to help recruit settlers for Jewish farm properties in Alachua County, said Kaitlyn Hof-Mahoney, executive director of the Matheson History Museum.

“It’s something that’s been a huge part of life in Gainesville and Alachua County,” Hof-Mahoney said of the lake.

Lake Wauburg is named after Frederick Warburg, who immigrated to Alachua County to help Moses Levy recruit settlers for a Jewish agricultural colony. The University of Florida bought the north shore of the lake for $6,000 in 1922. (Photo courtesy of Matheson History Museum)

The music at the lake’s turnout suggested it. For three hours, participants sailed, hammocked, barbecued, played sports and did yoga to the sound of a live jazz band.

John Bishop, 57, an architect and Apollo Beach outdoor enthusiast, said he enjoyed the event and loved the lake.

“The weather is nice, the music is good and everyone is having a good time,” said Bishop, who was in attendance with his wife and daughter.

Lake Wauburg is where 22-year-old Linda Dillon learned to rock climb and enjoy kayaking and paddle boarding. She said the lake’s distance from the UF campus and free student access make it both a great outlet for stress and a way to enjoy the outdoors.

Dillon attended Music at the Lake with the UF Culinary Arts Student Union (CASU). The vice president of the club, she said, about 50 of its members and 30 guests were due to attend a planned picnic. Rather than “cooking a pig,” CASU brought 11 pounds of Korean barbecue ribs, 20 pounds of barbecue chicken skewers, sausages, and side dishes for the centennial.

“It’s definitely been a positive experience no matter what,” she said of the lake.

Chloe Piloto, 20, an outdoor recreation associate and climbing wall operator, said she feels fulfilled helping others to do the activities she loves. Piloto said she spent Music at the Lake doing just that, welcoming visitors to the front door of North Shore.

“It’s just a fun atmosphere, both for the customer and for us,” she said.

Piloto started working at Lake Wauburg six months ago. She participates in aquatic activities such as kayaking, canoeing and land sports such as volleyball on the North Shore, as well as mountain biking, disc golf and rock climbing procedures on the South Shore.

But what she loves most about her job is the interaction with the students. She remembers visiting the lake as a freshman and wants to create the best experiences for others.

“Not every university has a place like the lake,” she said.

Ron Perry, 66, an assistant legal librarian at UF, was driving home from a 5K in Micanopy and decided to stop by the lake. Perry had not been in several years and was unaware of the celebration until he arrived. He said the jazz band was a pleasant surprise.

“It’s just a beautiful day away from the city,” Perry said.

Larkin said she’s proud of her staff for being able to put on an event like Music at the Lake despite recent hurdles. She said they hoped it would bring more attention to Lake Wauburg.

“We want people to know that and come here and enjoy it,” Larkin said.

Cars line up on Regatta Drive and overflow onto State Highway 25 as dozens of visitors wait to be received at Lake Wauburg during the centennial event on Saturday. (AJ Bafer/WUFT News)

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