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Walton County, Fla. – June 15, 2023 – Eastern Lake community members gathered recently to dedicate a sculpture honoring the memory of a beloved Great Blue Heron. The ceremony was held at the Eastern Lake Neighborhood Access.

The Lady of the Lake, as she came to be known, watched over the Eastern Lake community for more years than anyone can remember. 

Lady of the Lake stands in Eastern Lake inlet. Photo courtesy of Bill Horn.

“It really felt like this bird had connections somehow with every person that encountered it,” said Ann Clifford, a hobbyist photographer who has been a resident of Eastern Lake for almost 30 years.

Eastern Lake community members attending the ceremony shared fond memories of the bird and the connection they formed with it.

Ann Clifford shares memories of the Lady of the Lake.

In 2016, an off-leash dog chased the heron; as the bird flew away, the dog grabbed its foot removing it from the bird's body. “We all thought, at that time, ‘it’s never gonna make it,” said Clifford.

However, the bird thrived in the face of adversity. “Nature perseveres, and so did the heron,” said Clifford.

The heron’s resilience and constant presence was an inspiration felt by many, as she was often found wading in the inlet. Local fishermen sometimes shared bait fish with her and local photographers often saw the bird as their own personal model.

Many folks in the community held their own unique experiences with the bird as well as their special names for it including Matilda, Weird Bird and Dior. Ultimately they decided to memorialize it as Our Lady of the Lake.

In January 2022, an unknown person shot the heron and badly injured it. Community members sought help for the beloved animal. Alaqua Animal Refuge took the bird in, but unfortunately injuries were so extreme it had to be put down.

The Eastern Lake community members started a GoFundMe campaign to memorialize the heron with a sculpture. “Within two weeks, half of the money was raised,” said Clifford.  In total, $12,735 was donated for the memorial.

Tallahassee artist Mark Dickson was commissioned to create the sculpture. At the dedication ceremony, he spoke about his technique and the inspiration behind his work. “I like to take the basic nature of the actual bird, the characteristics, and then play upon those with the negative space and the abstract suggestions,” said Dickson.

Tallahassee-based artist Mark Dickson stands with sculpture at memorial of Lady of the Lake.Tallahassee-based artist Mark Dickson stands with Lady of the Lake sculpture.

The community funded project received support from the Eastern Lake Neighborhood Association, Artist Mark Dickson, Volunteer Memorial Team, Walton County BCC, Walton County Tourism, Walton County Beach Operations and Alaqua Animal Refuge.

According to Clifford, the remaining funds for the memorial statue — $1,605 — will be donated to Alaqua Animal Refuge for the care they provided the heron in its final moments. Alaqua is a local non-profit, no kill facility serving animals in need. 

Now, the Lady of the Lake will forever watch over the Eastern Lake community.