A Mickey "Forest" planted 23 years ago is in the middle of a planned sand mine that is in litigation in Lake County.
A Mickey "Forest" planted 23 years ago is in the middle of a planned sand mine that is in litigation in Lake County. (provided)

You can see it by plane, 10 miles south of Clermont, or more conveniently from your armchair online at the Lake County Property Appraiser's website: A very clear Mickey Mouse head just south of Lake Louisa.

The "Mickey Forest" was planted from pine trees in 1992, 23 years ago, following the years of severe freezes that killed a lot of the citrus trees that once grew in the area. It was part of a reforestation program in Lake and Orange Counties that Disney was sponsoring, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

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"In addition to making the land more beautiful, the trees will provide habitat, replenish oxygen in the atmosphere, stabilize soil and provide straw for mulch, Katy Moss Warner, general manager of Parks Horticulture for Disney World told the Sentinel at the time.

Back then, Disney owned a couple thousand acres in Lake County that it has since sold. But Mickey remains clearer now than when he was planted with seedlings just a few inches tall across about 60 acres in the middle of a 150-acre tract.

However, its future is uncertain.

The land is owned by Lake Louisa LLC, which is owned by Patriot Transportation in Jacksonville. Patriot has entered into a lease with CEMEX Construction Materials, which has plans to build a 600-acre sand mine on the land. Lake County's planning staff said CEMEX wants to dig a million tons of sand a year from the mine, the Sentinel reported. The operation would have an economic impact of $4.7 million a year on the county, the company said.

Facing a lot of opposition from landowners in the area, and expressing worries that the operation would thwart the county's attempt to create a health-oriented community in the area where the mine is planned, a sector plan called Wellness Way, the county denied the request.

In response, CEMEX sued Lake County and some other parties involved in the opposition.

"We think, as the owners, that this is a wonderful piece of property," said John D. Milton Jr., executive vice president and chief financial officer, and secretary and treasurer of Patriot Transportation. "We love the area and we love the dynamics for the future potential there. We think it will be wonderful as a sand mine. Disney World had to have a lot of it. You can't make concrete without sand."

tburney@growthspotter.com or 407-420-6261

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