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Last updated: July 08, 2013

 About the Lake Jackson Aquatic Preserve
View a Map
Description of Site
Ecological Importance
Rare / Endangered Species
Geomorphic Features
Archaeological Features
Management Status


Penny Isom - Penny.Isom@dep.state.fl.us
3900 Commonwealth Blvd., MS 235
Tallahassee, FL 32399
(850) 245-2094

Description of Site

The Lake Jackson, Carr Lake and Mallard Pond ecosystem is a valuable biological, aesthetic and recreational resource of Leon County and the State of Florida. This ecosystem was designated as the Lake Jackson Aquatic Preserve for the primary purpose of preserving and maintaining the biological resources in their essentially natural condition. The expansive freshwater marshes and native submerged vegetation provide exceptional fish, waterfowl and wading bird habitat. Lake Jackson is internationally known for sport fishing and its trophy largemouth bass. In addition, the lake generates several million dollars annually for the Tallahassee and Leon County area.


The Lake Jackson Aquatic Preserve was designated by the Florida Legislature on January 1, 1974.


The Lake Jackson Aquatic Preserve, located in northwest Leon County near the state capital of Tallahassee in Sections 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 28, 29, 32, 33, 34, 35, Township 02 North, Range 01 West, and Sections 01, 02, 03, 05, 10, 11, 12, 14, Township 01 North, Range 01 West. The aquatic preserve is accessed by several public landings including U.S. Hwy 27.


The preserve is approximately 5100 acres in size and includes only the sovereignty submerged lands located below the ordinary high water line (OHWL). Irregularly shaped, the lake body ranges from one half mile to three miles in width, and considering an L-shaped configuration, the lake is approximately 8 miles long.


Because of the steep hills in the region, numerous sub-basins are formed within the complete drainage area of the lake. The three major basins are the southern watersheds draining into Megginnis and Fords Arm, and an area draining into the northeastern segment of the lake via Ox Bottom Creek. These and other sub-basins comprise a Lake Jackson drainage area of approximately 43.2 square miles.


Submerged vegetation is abundant throughout the lake because of its general shallowness and relatively good water clarity. Increased nutrients have also produced accelerated growth, as evidenced by the rapid expansion of the submerged exotic plant hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata). Major native species occurring throughout the lake include blue hyssop (Bacopa caroliniana), coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum), green fanwort (Cabomba caroliniana), variable-leaf milfoil (Myriophyllum heterophyllum), and bladderworts (Utricularia spp.) The submerged vegetation provides a base for epiphytic algae and phytophilic invertebrates, and as habitat for small fish.

Populations of emergent vegetation comprising the broad marsh regions of the lake. This area ranges from being totally to periodically inundated, with some species able to inhabit merely damp conditions and some existing for lengthy periods totally submersed. Major species found here include maidencane (Panicum hemitomon), pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata), American lotus (Nelumbo lutea), and slender spikerush (Eleocharis baldwinii). These species include stabilize sediments, and assimilate nutrients entering the lake from runoff and leachate. The vegetation also contributes detritus and is used as spawning and cover for fish, reptiles, amphibians and some mammals. Birds utilize this habitat for nesting, loafing and foraging. Also, this community adds much to the scenic beauty of the preserve shoreline.

Numerous wetland tree and woody plant species also inhabit the drier portions of the transitional marsh. These include sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), oak (Quercus spp.), wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), dog fennel (Eupatorium spp.), and elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). These species provide wildlife habitat, filter stormwater runoff and cool nearshore waters.

Algae grow in sediment, drift or float on the water column, or are attached to larger vegetation and structures such as docks. They can become noxious in a lake if they grow to enormous populations, often termed an algal "bloom". Blooms may discolor surface waters, form floating scum, and cause fish kills (Haynes, 1988). Two of the more prevalent macroalgae found in Lake Jackson are musk grass (Chara spp.) and stonewort (Nitella spp.). Musk grass is found in moderate to sparse growth primarily in the middle portions of the lake. It is a favorable plant as food for waterfowl, and provides good habitat for invertebrates and small fish. Stonewort is moderately established throughout the lake and is also propitious as habitat for invertebrates. A number of filamentous algae also occur in the preserve, including the potentially noxious blue-green species known as Anabaena spp. Due to the hypereutrophic conditions in the Megginnis and Fords Arm portions of the lake, numerous blooms have already taken place. These algae possess the ability to fix and store nitrogen for growth, and outcompete other vegetation. Therefore, extensive blooms threaten the viability of the resource as an optimal ecosystem. Other algae present include water-silk or Spirogyra spp., Pithophora spp., Hydrodictyon spp., and many more.

Various species of exotic vegetation have been introduced into the preserve within the last 10 to 20 years. Many of these have become quite abundant in the lake by out-competing native vegetation. This vegetation can be an impediment to boat traffic and contributes eutrophication through sedimentation and oxygen depletion. Some of these species grow so rapidly that herbicide and biological control methods have had to be utilized to control them. The three most prevalent exotic plants in the lake are hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata), water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), and alligatorweed (Alternanthera philoxeroides).

Ecological Importance

The water quality of Lake Jackson varies relative to inflow from the various sub-basins within the whole of the watershed. Runoff from the extensively developed sub-basins of Fords Arm and Megginnis Arm have a marked increase in many types of pollutants entering the southern portion of the lake. Water quality in the middle and northern sections is relatively good because much of the north shoreline and watershed areas consist of forested and agricultural land. Suburban development, however, is increasing in that region.

Water quality studies of the lake have documented the degraded condition of Megginnis Arm and Ford's Arm, and relative good quality of the main lake body. Livingston (1988) states in his interim report entitled The Ecology of Lake Jackson, "Lake Jackson is undergoing serious problems due to the input of nutrients and toxic substances by postulated stormwater runoff from multiple sources." Clearly, the nutrient loading from urban runoff has been a major cause of water quality problems, stimulating inordinate macrophyte growth and blue-green algae blooms in many areas of the lake, characteristic of hypereutrophic conditions (Laws, 1984).

Lake Jackson has long been recognized as an excellent sport fishing resource. The natural periodic water level fluctuations or "dewatering or "drawdown"" are considered a positive occurrence for the rejuvenation and relative abundance of fish. For example, the numbers of species collected in a study by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (FGFWFC) from 1985-1987 more than doubled the number observed before the last (1983) natural drawdown. Before a severe drawdown in 1956, the lake was well known for its large bluegill catches. Following the refilling in 1958, it began and has maintained its stature as a trophy largemouth bass lake.

Rare / Endangered Species

Common Name
Scientific Name
American alligator Alligator mississipiensis SSC T (s/a)
little blue heron Egretta caerulea SSC n/a
snowy egret Egretta thula SSC n/a
bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus T E
wood stork Mycteria americana E E
least tern Sterna antillarum E n/a
round-tailed muskrat Neofiber alleni n/a UR

State listings are taken from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or as with plants, Florida Department of Agriculture.  Federal listings are taken from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. E= Endangered; T= Threatened; T (s/a)= Threatened due to similarity in appearance; SSC= Species of Special Concern; UR= Under review; n/a= information not available or no designation listed

Geomorphic Features

Lake Jackson is a shallow, flat bottomed water body with two major depressions or sink holes, approximately 28-feet in depth. The lake is a closed basin system, with no outflow from streams or runoff. It is bounded by steep hills, especially on the north and west shorelines, and receives the majority of inflow from three more gently sloping south and east watershed areas.

The lake is situated in a broad physiographic region known as the Northern Highlands, which extends from the eastern big bend west to Alabama. It is located more particularly in the Tallahassee Hills region, which is a land form of high elevation (215 to 230 feet above sea level).

Water levels and circulation in Lake Jackson are dependent on the measure of inflow in correlation to outflow in the surface area. Historically, the lake has fluctuated discernibly from periods of being dry to a maximum elevation of 96.16 feet above sea level. The elements producing inflow are rainfall, surface water runoff, and ground water discharge from the water table to the lake basin. Outflow is determined by transpiration of water by vegetation, evaporation from lake surface and leakage into the ground water system from the lake bottom.

The sinkholes are often a source of extreme water loss in the lake. Water drains from the lake into the Floridan Aquifer through sinkholes in the bottom. The sinkholes are generally partially or completely plugged with sediments, but collapse when groundwater levels drop, allowing lake water to funnel into the aquifer, often drawing the lake down extremely.

Archaeological Features

Lake Jackson has been the center of much of the history of Leon County. The visible remains of a relatively advanced Indian culture and some of the plantation period improvements can still be seen. Lake Jackson Mounds an 81-acre state archaeological site is managed by the Florida Park Service. On its shores lived some of the state's most important historical figures like Richard Keith Call, Colonel Robert Butler, Sid Cooper and Governor Thomas Brown. The lake and lands surrounding it are some of the state's greatest historical resources.


The preserve is almost entirely used for recreational boating, fishing, hunting and skiing with an increase in jet skiing. Public access points include 10 boat launching facilities, many of which have park-like settings for picnicking and related activities. Private uses are reflected in the many docks and piers associated with single-family residences. The primary commercial value of the preserve springs from its use as a sport-fishing and recreational boating resource and include two commercial bait and tackle stores. One subaqueous natural gas pipeline crosses the lake at the northern portion of Megginnis Arm. A large stormwater treatment facility located on Megginnis Arm was designed and constructed by the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

A variety of land uses, infrastructure and ownerships surround the lake. The south and east shorelines are predominated by residential development . Portions of the north shoreline have undergone recent single family home development, while a large estate known as Ayavalla Plantation abuts the north and west shorelines.

In the past twenty years, however, water quality of the lake has suffered a severe decline because of intense and accelerated development within its watershed. Developments have increased stormwater runoff, prompting excessive nutrient enrichment of the lake, which in turn has accelerated the growth of macrophytes, algae, and has increased growth of exotic vegetation such a hydrilla. Hydrocarbons, heavy metals and levels of sediments have increased as a result of stormwater runoff into the lake.

Management Status

The fundamental laws providing management authority for the Lake Jackson Aquatic Preserve are contained in Chapters 258 and 253, Florida Statutes (F.S.). In particular, Chapter 73-534, Laws of Florida, establishes the Lake Jackson Aquatic Preserve and defines the basic management principles for the preserve. Chapters 18-20 and 18-21, F.A.C., are the two administrative rules directly applicable to the uses of aquatic preserves specifically, and submerged lands in general. The Lake Jackson Aquatic Preserve Management Plan was adopted July 23, 1991.

In addition to being an aquatic preserve, Lake Jackson is designated as a surface water improvement water body (SWIM) water body and an outstanding Florida water.


Bowman, J. Ed, and D. Esry. 1984. Lake Jackson Clean Lakes Restoration Project. NWFWMD. Prepared for Florida Department of Environmental Regulation. EPA grant no. S004437010. 58 pp.

Dobbins, Daniel A., and R.W. Rousseau. 1981. Lakes Talquin and Jackson investigations. Final Report. D-J Fed. Aid Project F-31-7. Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. Tallahassee, Florida.

Dobbins, Daniel A., E. Long, B. Lubinski, and J. Nordhaus. 1987. Final Report For Investigations Project Ochlocknee River Watershed Studies. Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. 99 pp.

Esry, Donald H., and D.J. Cairns. 1988. Effectiveness of The Lake Jackson Restoration Project For Treatment Of Urban Runoff. 1988 Annual Meeting of the ASCE - Florida Section. Northwest Florida Water Management District. 15 pp.

Florida Department of Natural Resources. 1985. An Ordinary High Water Line Survey of Lake Jackson, Leon County. Bureau of Survey and Mapping.

Harris, R.C. and R.R. Turner, 1974. Lake Jackson investigations. Final completion report, Dingell-Johnson Project F-12-15. Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Tallahassee, Florida. 300 pp.

Landing, William M. 1989. Chemical Analysis of Sediments in Megginnis Arm, Lake Jackson: Preliminary Report. Prepared for Northwest Florida Water Management District. 072789. pp. 1,2,5.33 and 7.1.

Livingston, Robert J. 1988. The Ecology of Lake Jackson: An Interim Report. Center for Aquatic Research and Resource Mgt. Florida State University. Special publication Series No. 88-01. 78 pp.

Macmillan, Tyler L., and D.J. Cairns. 1989. Management and Restoration of Lake Jackson. Northwest Florida Water Management District. Water Resources Report 89-2. 38 pp.

Northwest Florida Water Management District. 1988. Surface Water Improvement and Management Plan for Lake Jackson Watershed. Draft Copy.

Rivers, E.G. and C.J. Allen, 1975. Silt Barriers As A Control For Erosion Pollution In A Large Recreational Lake. Proc. Annual Meet. Red. Transportation Research Bd., Committee on Roadside Environment. pages 7-8.

Smith, Hank. 1989. Vertebrate Wildlife Resources in and Surrounding Lake Jackson. Special Report. Dept. of Natural Resources. 26 pp.

Smith, S.L. 1975. Standing Crop, Success and Harvest in a Trophy Bass Lake, Lake Jackson, Florida. Proc. Ann. Conf. SE. Assoc. Fish Wildl. Agencies. 29:135-141.

Wanielista, Martin P. H. Harper, and S.S. Kuo. 1984. Bottom Sediments Megginnis Arm, Lake Jackson, Tallahassee, Fl., A Final Report: College of Engineering, University of Central Florida. pp. 1-19.

Wagner, Jeffrey R. 1984. Hydrogeological Assessment of the October 1982 Draining of Lake Jackson. Northwest Florida Water Mgt. District. Water Res. Rep. 84-1. 43 pp.

  3900 Commonwealth Boulevard M.S. 235 Tallahassee, Florida 32399 850-245-2094
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