Every year, we take a look at what’s going on around Lake Okeechobee with the Army Corps of Engineers dike rebuilding project. The project dates back to 2006, when it was determined that the hurricanes of 2004-2005 and a storm surge across the south end of the lake directly impacted the dike. Undermining and leakage was obvious in several locations at that time.
The southern end of the lake once naturally flowed into the Everglades, which – more than a century ago – was dredged and diked and turned into agricultural land. Since then, a series of dikes have held the waters of Lake Okeechobee back from flooding the fields and towns along the lake’s south end.
Mass destruction and loss of life in the 1928 hurricane resulted in the construction of the Herbert Hoover Dike, which was simply muck piled up while dredging the Rim Canal for navigation. The last pieces of the Herbert Hoover Dike were constructed along the north edge of the lake in the 1960s.
Rather than work their way around the lake, the Corps has several contractors simultaneously working on removing the earthen dike, adding a metal wall, and backfilling the earthen dike. This has made access to the Florida Trail – which circles the lake on the dike – very difficult for the past decade.
Based on the above map and our personal reconnaissance of the area in early January 2020, here are the facts on how you can tackle the Florida Trail around Lake Okeechobee on either the west side or the east side.
We’ve long recommended the west side as far more pleasant, since it’s away from “civilization” and factories. We continue to recommend it as there are far fewer construction closures along it.
However, we leave it to you to decide, based on these facts. Please note that all potential combinations of roadwalks to get around closures are discussed in our guidebook, The Florida Trail Guide.
Please see our article AROUND OKEECHOBEE for a full discussion of the current state of the construction zones along the Florida Trail as of January 2020.
Our key recommendation for 2020 hikes: take the west side of the lake when section or thru-hiking the Okeechobee section, as more than 25 miles of the trail are currently inaccessible in Okeechobee East, or close to half the route.