The closing for our lot purchase at Riverbend was scheduled for April 15. But not knowing what time it would be, we made reservations from April 12th – 16th at a nearby COE (Army Corps of Engineers) campground – Ortona South about 1-1/2 hours away from Myakka Motorcoach Resort, but only about 15-20 minutes from Labelle and Riverbend.
Being a Sunday, it was an easy peasy drive without much traffic from Myakka Motorcoach Resort to Ortona South. As we neared the campground heading east on SR-80, we made a left hand turn onto Dalton Lane. Note that Dalton Lane meets SR-80 exactly at the point where it changes from a 4-lane divided to a 2-lane undivided roadway – the 12 mile section of SR-80 to the east between Dalton Lane and the outskirts of Clewiston are 2 lane and somewhat narrow.
Dalton Lane is a fairly decent, paved back road surrounded by cow pasture prairie, but there were two rather sharp 90° turns, one left which was quickly followed by a right turn a short distance from the entrance to the campground. Not a big deal though.
Check out time at Ortona South was 11:00 a.m., check in time was 12:00 p.m. Since we arrived a little after 12:30 p.m., our site (#23) was ready and waiting for us.
Ortona South Campground is located on the Okeechobee Waterway and is due west of Lake Okeechobee. The 152 mile Waterway extends west from the Lake to the Gulf of Mexico using the Caloosahatchee River and east to the Atlantic Ocean using the St. Lucie Canal. The Army Corps of Engineers constructed and currently manages five locks along the Waterway. Since many of the campsites directly overlook the river and the locks, anyone staying here has a perfect opportunity to watch the boats navigate through the locks.
In case you have a fascination with locks like we do, here are some interesting facts about the Ortona Locks…
- Ortona Lock and Dam were constructed in 1937 for navigation purposes, both recreational and commercial.
- Waterway distance is 15.5 miles east to the Moore Haven Lock and 27.9 miles west to the W.P. Franklin Lock.
- Approximately 9,500 vessels go through the lock annually; of these about 96% are recreational vessels.
- Approximately 13,300 tons of manufactured goods, equipment, crude materials, food, and petroleum products go through the lock annually.
- The lock chamber is 50 feet wide x 250 feet long x 12 feet deep
- The lift of the lock is normally 7.5 to 8.5 feet. Channel width and depth: 90 feet wide x 8 feet deep
- There are two spillway tainter gates, each 20 feet wide x 30 feet tall.
- There are two vertical lift gates 46.8 feet wide x 10.4 feet tall.
- There are two sixty degree, 30 foot x 6 ½ inch structural steel sector gates.
There is a walkway across the locks for better viewing – there was a sign that said that after April 1st, the gate to the walkway would be locked at 4:30 p.m. Not sure how late it stays open during the winter months. The lock operates 365 days a year from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Or if you get bored with watching the boat traffic and you like to fish, it seems that this is a pretty popular spot as there are fishing piers on either side of the spillway. Every day we would see several fisherman hoping for a lucky day!
The campground has 51 campsites with water and 50 Amp electric hookups but no sewer, covered picnic tables, a fire pit and a grill with a grate. Reservations can be made by calling or on-line through recreation.gov. Rates are $30 per night but if you have a Golden Age Pass or America the Beautiful Pass, there is a 50% discount so our rate was $15 per night.
For more detailed information about the campground, please see our Ortona South Campground Review.
It was easy backing into our site #23 which was located right on the river, a great spot to watch the boating action and sunsets. Being a Sunday afternoon, there was a lot of activity – about 15 boats went through the locks within an hour of our arrival – weekend traffic I guess. During the rest of our stay there were just a few boats a day transiting the lock. Pretty neat!
Once we settled into our site, we didn’t have much time to explore as we were having dinner with our friends, Clayton and Gail, so we drove over to Riverbend to meet up with them. They were planning on heading back to Maine on Tuesday. After we arrived at their Riverbend site, there was a thunderstorm with a torrential downpour. Ah, yes the joys of Florida weather. Temps here were 10° higher than normal (in the high 80’s) with high humidity, more like what it is like in July. UGH, not my cup of tea! We quickly learned that afternoon t-storms are an everyday occurrence during Florida summers.
After visiting with them for a bit on their coach, the rain had stopped, so we hopped in the car and followed them to the Forrey Grill in Labelle. Oops, guess they are closed on Sundays! Not too many other choices without driving a distance so we ended up at the Log Cabin also in Labelle. We had eaten there in December. Good food plus you get a free cup (well, more like a tablespoon) of fish chowder and a free scoop of ice cream – you can’t beat that! I had a 1/2 rack of ribs with Texas toast and two sides (baked beans, mixed veggies were my choices), all for $14.95. Rob had a special – a steak, mushroom and cheese sub with one side (mixed veggies) for $8.95. Our only complaint about the place are the bright interior lights! But we had a nice visit with Clayton and Gail.
During the rest of our stay we didn’t do much – spent most of the time on the coach out of the heat and humidity and enjoying the AC. We did venture outside in the mornings and towards sunset when it was cooler.
Each morning we would get up around 6:30 a.m. to go out walking. Even at that hour it was uncomfortable but at least the sun wasn’t too brutal and it was cooler than midday. Don’t think this New England gal could ever be a full time Floridian!
On Tuesday, the 14th, we met with our realtor, Steve Hunter, at Riverbend to inspect the lot we were purchasing, the coach house and the golf cart. Everything looked great!
After that we tried the Forrey Grill again, this time for lunch. Cute place with nice decor. I ordered the Spicy Ranch Grilled Chicken Salad (huge) and Rob had the lasagne – both recommendations from our waitress. Good stuff! We both took home leftovers which we enjoyed that night for supper. Definitely would go there again!
Would we stay here again? Most definitely, one of the better COE parks we have visited!