Posted on December 20, 2023
The city of Milton has embarked upon a mission to restore the iconic Locklin Lake, described by former mayor Wesley Meiss as “the heart of Milton,” to its former glory.
City Council members voted unanimously Dec. 12 to spend $104,000 on an engineering study that will allow it to navigate through a planned three-phase restoration effort. City Manager Scott Collins said the study will give Milton officials some idea of what the total cost of the project will be.
The study, to be conducted by First Line Coastal, will look initially at the removal of silt and invasive species from the lake, secondly at the stabilization of the shoreline and lastly at preventing sediments from entering the lake and recreating the problem that has plagued it for years.
The body of water that would become known as Locklin Lake was created between 1828 and 1830 by Benjamin Jernigan, who dammed two streams to provide a location to operate a sawmill. A mill town grew up around the lake and in 1844 the city of Milton was born.
According to a history compiled by a pair of researchers from the University of West Florida, Jernigan died in 1847 and his sawmill was moved downstream to the Blackwater River. Jernigan’s Mill, on what would much later become Locklin Lake, was repurposed to function as a grist mill that ground corn for a plantation that stood where Milton High School is today.
R.J. Allen built a park he called Yupon Park on the lake in 1935, and after a decade or so sold it to Burton Locklin, a local educator. Locklin’s son, Burt Locklin, still owns and resides on eight acres of lakefront property where the park used to be. He recalls growing up on the lake in the 1950s, and swimming in water so pristine he could see underwater further than he could travel while holding his breath.
But as Milton grew and developed, the health of Locklin Lake began to decline.
“It’s a fact. Where human beings go, pollution goes,” Locklin told the Pensacola News Journal during a July interview.
Joe Cook, the public works director, has described Locklin Lake as almost a catch basin toward which sediment flows. The paving of Dogwood Drive greatly contributed to the condition the lake finds itself in today. Anderson Columbia, the company that built the roadway, paid a hefty fine for its failure to prevent runoff into the lake.
Fertilizer from the yards of homes along the lake have also contributed to the pollution, according to Locklin.
Phase one of the project will require dredging the lake to remove all of the sediment and invasive species that have piled up over the years, Collins told the City Council. Once that is done steps will have to be taken to stabilize the shoreline.
“The silt and sedimentation in some areas have, in effect, become the shoreline,” Collins said. “So there is some concern as we get down to the original lake depth the shoreline will become unstable.”
He said that while city officials have thus far been focused primarily on phase one, he has “behind the scenes” looked ahead to phases two and three, which will require what Collins termed side agreements between each lakefront property owner and the Locklin Lake homeowners association “regarding their property ownership of their portions of the lake.”
The final piece of the overall project will include finding ways to greatly reduce the amount of silt and sediment running into Locklin Lake, Collins said.
He said that while obtaining permitting to dredge the lake should be a relatively simple procedure, efforts to mitigate the continuing sediment flow to the lake from inlets to the north and east might require working with the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Collins told council members that since the $1 million in funding has been set aside exclusively for the removal of silt and sedimentation, the city will have to look for other funding opportunities with which to cover costs incurred outside of that aspect of the clean up.