The Ancient Islands Group includes Polk, Highlands, Hardee, Desoto and Highlands Counties – all have unique ecosystems.
The Lake Wales Ridge (Polk & Highlands)
Through the millennia as oceans rose and fell 300 feet above sea level the “back bone” of Florida always remained out of the water. For hundreds of thousands of years these high points were isolated islands, their flora and fauna evolving characteristics found nowhere else in the world. The high, sandy Ridge, stretching south from near Orlando almost to Lake Okeechobee, was a mosaic of scrub, flatwoods, wetlands, and lakes. The scrub is unique. It is inhabited by many plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world, but in recent years it has been almost completely converted to citrus groves and housing developments. For further information visit the Archbold Biological Station website.
Bone Valley (Polk, Hardee, DeSoto)
Bone Valley is the region of central Florida that encompasses portions of Polk, Hardee, Desoto, Hillsborough and Manatee counties in which phosphate is mined for the production of fertilizer and other products. Florida contains the largest known deposits of phosphate in the United States. The area was dubbed Bone Valley because of the enormous deposits of fossilized bones which have been discovered here. Many of the finds have been made during the phosphate strip mining process. The bones of land animals are mostly from the Pleistocene age and those of marine creatures are mainly found within the Miocene-Pliocene phosphate layer. For more information visit the Sierra Club’s phosphate mining webpage.
Green Swamp (Polk & Sumter)
The real liquid heart of Florida is the 560,000 acre Green Swamp. It includes portions of Polk, Lake, Sumter, Pasco, and Hernando counties that lie over and feed the Green Swamp potentiometric high which rises up to 132 feet above mean sea level near Polk City. Like a water tower, it provides the underground pressure to a multitude of springs, the base flow of five major rivers, and hydrologic support for countless lakes, ponds, seeps, and wetlands. Its ground water pressure supplies water to the majority of Florida’s population and holds back salt-water intrusion into the aquifer along the heavily populated east and west coasts. The wetlands of its river systems (Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha, Hillsborough, Peace, & Kissimmee) provide invaluable wildlife habitat and comprises Florida’s foremost wildlife corridor reaching all corners of the state. Visit the Green Swamp Interactive Web page.
Fisheating Creek (Highlands)
Fisheating Creek is the only free-flowing tributary to Lake Okeechobee. The 50 mile long stream flows from southwest Highlands County into Glades County where it spreads out into Cowbone Marsh before entering the lake. Framed by cypress swamps and hardwood hammocks, it has long been valued for its scenic beauty. Strategically located in relation to Big Cypress Swamp, Okaloacoochee Slough, Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area, Lake Okeechobee, and the Lake Wales Ridge, it is critical to the long-term survival of Florida panthers, black bears, swallow-tailed kites, whooping and sandhill cranes, crested caracara, and a number of other species native to the area. For more information visit Wikipedia's Fisheating Creek webpage.
Kissimmee River (Polk & Highlands)
The Kissimmee River historically meandered 103 miles from Lake Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee. Prolonged flooding from hurricanes in 1947 resulted in a call for flood control. In 1948, Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to construct the Central and South Florida Project. From 1960-1971, the River was transformed from a beautiful, meandering river into a 56-mile-long ditch (C-38 canal). Studies showed a resulting 90% loss of waterfowl, a 70% loss of Bald Eagle populations and the loss of largemouth bass fisheries. In 1992, Congress authorized the Kissimmee River Restoration Project. Spanning from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes to Lake Okeechobee, the Project will restore over 40 square miles of the river/floodplain ecosystem, including 40 miles of meandering river and more than 12,000 acres of wetlands. When complete, 22 miles of C-38 canal will be backfilled, miles of historic meandering oxbows will have flow and habitat restored and communities and utilities within the Kissimmee watershed will be equipped with new flood protection measures. For more information visit the South Florida Water Management District's web page on Kissimee River restoration.