In 1918, the University YMCA purchased 20 acres of land and water at Lake Wauburg as a recreation center for University of Florida students. This was before the road across Paynes Prairie was completed. The journey to the lake took about a half-day on a winding road of mostly sand with the danger of getting stuck in the sand and mud.
In 1928 Dr. John Tigert became president of the university. The University YMCA dissolved, and the land was deeded to the University of Florida with the understanding that the Union would administer the facility. The Union took over the running of Lake Wauburg, known then as Camp Wauburg, in 1936, and the transfer of the property to the University of Florida occurred in 1938.
In 1939 a recreation center and a small residence were built on the property. Today both are renovated and currently in use. The university administration never agreed to put money into Lake Wauburg, so the Union picked up all costs for the administration of the facility. The Union sought support from the university administration and a 35-cent per capita fee for operational costs, both were denied. The Union closed Lake Wauburg, to the public in the fall of 1970 due to a lack of funds and the deterioration of the facilities. Lake Wauburg North reopened in 1974, under the control of the Department of Intramural Athletics and Recreation. The reopening was funded by a reserve fee allocation, which was matched by other funds from within and outside the university. President York agreed to provide normal physical plant services for maintenance. The North Park has been continually operated since 1974 with Student Government funding and assistance from the College of Health and Human Performance.
In 1962-63 UF Student Government acquired what is currently known as Lake Wauburg South Shore. This is a 72-acre (30.2 acres under water) parcel of land, which the Athletic Association bought from a private citizen in 1958. The Athletic Association had envisioned it as a retreat facility and an area for team use, but no development of the land occurred.
During the period between the acquisition of Lake Wauburg South Shore and the reopening of the North Park, many ideas were discussed relating to the development of both areas of land. One possibility discussed was the transfer of the North Park to the Department of Natural Resources, and the development of the South Park. The State Division of Parks was to incorporate Lake Wauburg North into its Paynes Prairie project. This transfer never occurred. Stipulations in the court order under which the University acquired the property in 1938 held that the property was for the use of the students of the University of Florida and could not be sold or transferred to any other party.
Development of Lake Wauburg South Shore began in 1982 with Student Government funding of $225,000 through special request funds. Two large pavilions and a rest room facility were constructed, along with extensive waterfront decking and docks. The area is now primarily used for large group functions, water skiing, disc golf, fishing and has been in continuous use since 1985.
Extensive renovations took place from 1998-2000. A large rest room with showers and changing areas was built in the North Park centrally located to the swimming area and open pavilion. A shelter for boats, equipped with a lifeguard observation tower, was built on the waterfront. The most popular improvement was the renovation of Cypress Lodge. Central heat and air-conditioning and a full service kitchen were added and the recreation room saw a 30 percent expansion. The room is paneled with pecky cypress and has modern lighting. In order to support these new facilities a new water and septic system was installed.
Lake Wauburg currently incorporates the two parks into one overall recreational facility primarily for student use. Almost 65,000 visitors use this unique recreational resource each year. The history of Lake Wauburg has seen the development of a small portion of land used by the University YMCA grow to one of the largest outdoor recreation centers in the Southeast.
The University of Florida's Lake Wauburg Recreation Center is staffed with trained and responsible students and is equipped with the latest in safety and general park materials. The park is known as one of the University's best-kept secrets and will continue to improve with the help of the student body.