LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – A Lake County nonprofit, already struggling from hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic, is dealing with another big blow.
The Trout Lake Nature Center in Eustis was vandalized sometime Sunday night, according to the center’s Executive Director, Eileen Tramontana.
"I came into work yesterday here at the nature center and I found my doors wide open in my education building. I looked in and there was destruction everywhere," Tramontana said.
This morning, volunteers watched as a damaged golf cart was returned on a flatbed truck. The cart, used to transport visitors with disabilities, was missing a wheel and one of its headlights hung from wires. The cart was recovered nearby.
Volunteers were able to clean up and repair most of the damage by Tuesday morning. Tramontana said glass and doors were broken, computers were stolen and displays were damaged. Notably a taxidermy Florida Panther was broken from its mount and lay on its side against a wall.
"Made a big mess," Tramontana said. "It's like someone stomped on our hearts."
Tramontana estimates the repairs could run in the thousands. The loss comes at a time when the center's donations are down due to classes, school field trips and environmental education programs being canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Volunteer Jeanette Kelly was relieved to find none of the live animals were harmed. She pointed to a corn snake whose cage was opened but it remained inside.
“They were probably afraid of the snakes,” Kelly laughed. “I know I would be.”
While the center remains closed they hope to open on Friday.
The 230-acre property has offered walking trails and environmental education opportunities for 32 years.
If you’d like to help, you can donate on their Facebook page or website.