Maintaining balance: How Wekiva Island strives to protect the Wekiva River

This year, in honor of Earth Day, we filmed and shared a beautiful mini-documentary on the efforts toward sustainability Wekiva Island has taken. You can view it here.

Mist rises from the surface of the cool Wekiva River as the sun peaks over the trees. A nearby bird takes flight as a kayaker paddles quietly by. The scene is more beautiful than a painting, hung on a gallery wall.

But imagine if the wild and scenic waters of the Wekiva ceased to flow.

Each day, pressures from urbanization, pollution and climate change threaten the Wekiva Springshed—and its life-giving waters. And each day, we at Wekiva Island—perched on the river’s banks—have been working to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Bill Weinaug, the owner of Wekiva Island, said that has been the mission since he purchased the property in 2008. The Weinaug family was already passionate about making changes in their own home, but Bill wanted to show that it was possible to live out sustainability as a business.

“We all adopted this idea that we could do better, as a family,” he said. “And we really wanted to showcase us doing better. That is the real reason why we’re here. We wanted to do something bigger than just the little things we were doing at our home.”

It’s an essential mission, said Lee Constantine, Seminole County Commissioner.

“People don’t realize where their fresh water comes from,” he said. “If we didn’t have the Springshed of the Wekiva, which is one of the greatest contributors of fresh water in Central Florida, we would be in dire straits.”

Balance, Constantine added, is key. While we need to grow, growth won’t be worth it if we don’t protect our natural resources.

“Florida’s past and future is interlocked with the environment,” Constantine said.

Wekiva Island aims to strike that balance, Weinaug said, by making a difference and inspiring people while they’re having fun.

One way Wekiva Island does that is through partners, like the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. The Audubon Cabana might look like the other riverbanas, where families celebrate and kids play. But Katie Gill Warner, director of the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, said proceeds from the rental of the bana have been benefitting the center’s mission of raptor rehabilitation and care, environmental education and science for 10 years.

The partnership is perfect, she said, because the bana’s backdrop is so meaningful to the work the center does.

“Audubon uses birds as indicators of healthy ecosystems, so the more we can protect our natural resources, the better we’ll be,” she said.

Another way Wekiva Island subtly makes a difference is through art. Art has been part of Wekiva Island’s mission from the start, as it is another of Bill Weinaug’s passions. Just like visiting Wekiva Island and seeing its beauty, Weinaug hopes seeing it captured on canvas will motivate people to protect this place.

That was part of the reason behind Gallery CERO at Wekiva Island, and it’s part of the idea behind the yearly Wekiva Paint Out, where artists gather for a week of plein air painting. The event benefits Keep Seminole Beautiful, which is led by Bill’s wife, Mary, and the Wekiva Wilderness Trust, headed by our partner, Don Philpott.

Both organizations aim to protect the river. Keep Seminole Beautiful has cleaned up tons (literally) of trash from the Wekiva, and the Wekiva Wilderness Trust cleans up trash, removes invasive plants and keeps an eye on the river through river patrols.

Peter Pettegrew, one of the longtime artists of the Wekiva Paint Out, sums it up nicely:

“I think it’s an important thing to help build an awareness of the Wekiva River and the Wekiva wilderness,” he said. “So I feel like I’m part of a bigger picture with that.”

Of course, Wekiva Island lives out its mission, too. Visitors will see solar panels and recycling bins around the property, and we also collect reclaimed water, have solar hot water and more. Our goal is to be carbon neutral by 2030.

For Earth Day 2024, we hosted a day of activities to have fun while educating, capped off by two inspiring Eco Talks panels with thought leaders in the Central Florida area. The first panel featured Mike Hess, Director of Sustainability, Resilience and the Future-Ready City Initiative, City of Orlando; Gabrielle Milch, Supervisor 4, Seminole Soil and Water Conservation & St John’s Riverkeeper Middle Basin Manager; and Chuck O’Neal, President, Speak Up Wekiva, Inc. The three spoke from a big-picture perspective about innovative programs and policies they and others are implementing and what needs to happen to make our community better. You can watch it here.

The second panel featured Kellie Antonowicz, Director of Education, IDEAS For Us/Fleet Farming; Alyssa Bolanos, Owner + Founder, Oh Eco; and Charlie Pioli, Founder/CEO, O-Town Compost. Each of them is on-the-ground advocates who are changing Orlando’s sustainability scene. They inspired the crowd with small actions we can all take to make a change. You can watch it here.

Community gatherings like these, focused on discussion and change, hark back to why Bill Weinaug started Wekiva Island.

We do what we do because we see ourselves as living out the balance Constantine spoke about. A balance between fun and education. A balance between development and preservation. A balance between man and nature.

We do what we do because we see ourselves as living out the balance Constantine spoke about. A balance between fun and education. A balance between development and preservation. A balance between man and nature. 

The Wekiva River is a living testament to the harmony between human activity and natural preservation. With every action, we hope to maintain the balance, so this life-giving spring can flow for generations. 

“I worry about the planet that I am leaving for my beautiful grandchildren. And that is the reason we’re here, is for my grandchildren and their children,” Weinaug said. 

“I want them to know I cared about them.”  

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    Wekiva Winter Wonderland Santa's Workshop

    Winter Wonderland Has Arrived!

    Winter Wonderland is back again, and we’re excited to celebrate the festive season all December long. In addition to our well-loved activities like daily “snow” flurries, the Christmas tree forest and our 24-ft tall tree, and visits from your favorite Christmas characters, Santa is inviting all the good boys and girls for the first time ever to his Workshop, right here at Wekiva Island.

    Hours alert

    website pop up - May 10
    We will be closed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Friday, May 10.

    Join us for our annual Earth Day celebration this Friday, April 19th all day long! Click to discover all the activities we have in store. 🌎