Access to wildlife drive sets painter-photographer’s creativity free

At 78, Lee Hanline has trouble walking. Emphysema and asthma further limit his physical activity.

“I used to be a hiker, backpacker and a kayaker,” he says wistfully. “I was the consummate outdoorsman. I can’t walk around like I used to.”

However, time has not robbed Hanline of his ability to photograph and paint Florida wildlife. At least twice a month, he makes the hour drive from the senior community where he lives in DeLand to the St. Johns River Water Management District’s Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive to continue his lifelong passion for capturing moments in time.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is a one-way, 11-mile drive meandering through the eastern portion of the District’s Lake Apopka North Shore, where the District water quality protection project has transformed former muck farms into restored wetlands and a jewel for the recreating public.

“It’s a beautiful drive,” says Hanline, who was born in Virginia and raised on a farm. “I enjoy going out there and listening to nature. I’m grateful to have this place that I can explore from my car. I take photos from the car. I have a 600-millimeter telephoto lens to capture my subjects.”

Hanline has experimented with all types of mediums since delving into art as a child, but he is best known for his watercolors and photographs. He sells some of his art, but he gives much of it away to friends and neighbors.

“I shoot photos out at the wildlife drive and take them home, Photoshop them, crop them and use some of them as the basis for my watercolors,” he says. “I’ve done hundreds of paintings.”

Lee Hanline next to one of his wildlife paintings of a heron

Lee Hanline with one of his wildlife paintings inspired by the District’s Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.

Hanline’s Facebook page attests to his productivity. His photographs and paintings of red-shouldered hawks, herons, perching birds and alligators capture the very essence of what makes the Lake Apopka North Shore and its wildlife drive such a rare gem in central Florida.

Hanline was so thrilled when the District reopened the wildlife drive last year following a temporary closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic that he presented District staff with a gold framed watercolor of a great blue heron, which is displayed at the District’s Apopka Field Station.

“We hear gratitude from many people that have limited mobility due to age, injury, young kids in tow, or various limitations,” says Dr. Erich Marzolf, director of the District’s Division of Water and Land Resources. “I’m glad the drive expands opportunities for more people, like Mr. Hanline, and is a place where they can enjoy nature.”

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