Florida's Polk County sets aside land for rehab, future generations
Guide Steve King explains about swamp land and the important role it plays in the ecosystem.
Historically, in the early part of the last century, people choose to drain swamps and marshes. It made better land for growing crops and raising livestock.
While the drained land was better for some crops and livestock, it also had a negative impact on water quality and much wildlife. It happened in many places like the Kankakee Marsh innorth-central Indiana, other places in the Midwest, and significant parts of Florida.
While all of the original marsh and swamp land will never be returned to its undisturbed status, there are places where people of have seen the benefits of returning the land to its original status. There are some good examples in the area of central Florida where I spend cold weather months.
Polk County is a large county in central Florida. It roughly is the size of Rhode Island, and currently has 544 lakes. Many were sink holes that filled with water, and about one-third are natural lakes, including those in the Kissimmee chain of lakes which lead to Lake Okeechobee and eventually through marsh and swamp land to the Gulf of Mexico.
Polk County Environmental Lands Program oversees the management of Polk’s Nature Discovery Center and 16 natural areas in the county. The program exists to protect the water, wildlife and wilderness, and when appropriate, provide nature-based recreation.
A number of years ago, voters in Polk County approved a property tax levy that created the Lands Program. Since that time, many environmentally sensitive areas are being protected.
One of the areas being protected and rehabilitated is the Circle B Bar Reserve, The 1,267-acre wilderness area between Winter Haven and Lakeland, boasts large numbers of wildlife, and attracts visitors from throughout the United States and numerous foreign countries.
One of the earliest property maps showing the Circle B dates back to 1927 and shows it as a wet area., connected to Lake Hancock. Over the next 70 years, actions were taken to drain the area and make the land more suitable for cattle ranching.
In 2000, the land was purchased by the Polk County Commissioners and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, to restore the main wetland now known as Banana Creek Marsh.
Since the purchase, the restoration of the marsh and upland has been ongoing. The changes are creating habitat and providing new food source for thousands of resident and migrating birds and other wildlife, including wild turkey, eagles, bobcat, grey fox, otter, coyotes, and gopher tortoises.
And, there are plenty of alligators. Lake Hammond and the surrounding are are estimated to house abut 4,000 gators.
Circle B has a dozen well maintained trails for hiking and biking. It seems to be a paradise for photographers, and despite the sizable alligator population, there doesn’t seem to be any significant disagreeable encounters between visitors and gators.
Circle B also offers guided leisurely tram tours through the Banana Creek Marsh with narrative provided by volunteer guides. However, the tram tours are popular and reservations are required. There is no charge. Reservations may be made at the Discovery Center reception desk or by calling 1-863-668-4673, ext 205. Reservations usually need to be made several days in advance.
The Circle B is well worth a visit on any trip to Florida. It is located about 50 miles southwest of Orlando. The facilities are open daily, and there is no charge, although there is a donation jar at the registration/information desk.
One word of caution, pets are not allowed on the property.