Kissimmee River Wild And Scenic Status Advances

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto’s efforts to give the Kissimmee River federal Wild and Scenic River status passed an important milestone this week.

Soto secured a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives to support legislation that would launch a study of the proposal he broached last year.

The bill has been referred to the Committee for Energy and Natural Resources in the Senate.

The Kissimmee River was once a winding 103-mile river that was ditched in the 1960s for flood control, destroying thousands of acres of riverine marsh habitat that once attracted large numbers of waterfowl.

The project, which was opposed by the environmental community and many outdoors groups, also eliminated the river’s environmental services as a natural pollution-treatment plant.

By the 1980s government officials acknowledged the project was a mistake and launched a study to undo most of the damage.

That brought on the largest river-restoration project in world history through Congressional authorization in 1992.

Work finally began in 1999 and is scheduled to be completed in 2020, about five years after the initial predicted completion date.

The entire river will not be restored because of encroachment in the floodplain by development on the south end of the river near Lake Okeechobee that officials decided makes some flood protection necessary unless the property owners were bought out and forced to move, which was not approved.

Polk Issues on April Swiftmud Board Agenda

Continued funding of Polk Regional Water Cooperative projects and a lawsuit against Sanlan Ranch and Holloway Park in Lakeland for longstanding permit violations will be among the items on the agenda with the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board meets at 10 a.m. April 24 at Lake Eva Banquet Center in Haines City.

The water cooperative will continue to receive $5 million a year for the next five years in connection with planned projects to explore using the Lower Floridan Aquifer for future water supplies and to use restoration of portions of the Peace Creek Basin to justify additional withdrawals from the Upper Floridan Aquifer.

The cooperative will also be required to develop additional water conservation measures.

The Lakeland enforcement action involves disputes stretching back to 2015 over permit compliance for wetands alterations and preparation of proper engineering plans for campground expansion work.

The board also will be briefed on a long-range plan to support conversion of septic tank and package plants to modern sewer treatment service in parts of the district to reduce groundwater pollution that affect surface water quality. No specific projects are included in the agenda.

New Wetlands Park Grand Opening Saturday

Lakeland’s Se7en Wetlands Park’s grand opening is scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Gopher Tortoise entrance at the southeast corner of Loyce Harpe Park off Carter Road in Mulberry

Workers were busy late this week putting the finishing touches on the entrance area.

The park has 8.5 miles of trails in the current phase—more is planned later—along a former phosphate mine dike system with side trails at wooded edges and wetland edges.

I took a leisurely three-hour hike through much of the site this week and can report the site offers a variety of flora and fauna and a potential to become a good wildlife-viewing site if managed properly.

Among the species I saw on my visit were various wading birds, such as great egrets and black-crowned night herons, spotted sandpiper, monarch and several other species of butterflies, a good variety of dragonflies, lots of wildflowers and an osprey flying overhead. In the distance across one of the ponds I could see wood storks and roseate spoonbills.

Entry is free from either Loyce Harpe or Lakeland Highlands Scrub.

Check it out.

Polk Environmental Pioneer Helen Morrison Dead At 99

Helen Morrison, whose involvement in raising environmental awareness ranged from helping to fight the Cross-Florida Barge Canal to helping local schoolchildren understand the wonders of the natural environment, died last week at 99.

She is an example of the results of commitment to environmental progress in a place where there was little when she and her family arrived in Polk County in the 1950s.

Along with her late husband Ken, she was instrumental in founding Florida Bi-Partisans Civic Affairs Group, Defenders of Crooked Lake and Ridge Audubon Society.

A 25-acre piece of land near her home on Crooked Lake that was protected for years is now a Polk County preserve called Crooked Lake Sandhill, one of a collection of conservation purchases that now further the lake’s protection and what’s left of the native habitat around the lake.

For many residents in Babson Park, where Helen Morrison lived for much of her life, she is also remembered as the woman who brought wildlife to local schools and encouraged children to explore the outdoors through a network of trails called the Scrub Plum Preserve.

It is fitting that this year on Earth Day, April 21, there will an effort to honor her legacy with a day of litter cleanup and exotic plant removal in the Babson Park area. Everyone is invited and encouraged to participate. The event will begin at 9 a.m.

Watch for more details on gathering sites nearer to the event.

A memorial service to celebrate her life is planned sometime in May.



Swiftmud Board To Discuss Peace Creek Irma Debris Removal

The Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board will discuss spending money to remove debris from Hurricane Irma from the Peace Creek Drainage Canal at its regular meeting Tuesday in Brooksville..

The proposal would cost $802,766 and is part of a series of projects that have been under way since last year’s hurricane to clear streams within the district to improve water flow. Swiftmud took over management of the canal system, which stretches from Lake Hamilton to the Peace River in 2010.

Other ongoing hurricane debris projects have involved the Upper Peace River and the Withlacoochee River.

Does Circle B Need A Parking Cop?

There are signs all over Circle B Bar Reserve telling people to park only in parking lots.

People park where they feel like anyway, it seems.

The practice causes some wear and tear on vegetated areas around the parking lot and potentially could lead to some traffic conflicts as people try to maneuver around these scofflaws.

In addition, the illegal parking is unnecessary.

There was plenty of space at the time in another nearby parking lot, which was a shorter walk than the walk to the main nature trails.


Colt Creek Campground Dedication Draws State Officials

State officials and other park supporters cut a ceremonial ribbon Wednesday

Colt Creek State Park’s newest campground, complete with a bathhouse and full hookups opened last month, but Wednesday state officials, parks staffers and local supporters gathered to officially commemorate the opening.

The speaks included Noah Valenstein, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and Eric Draper, director of the state park system.

Valenstein said partnerships have been key to the success in acquiring the park and improving it since it opened in 2007.

Draper said the park aids the local economy and the success of this and other state parks is aided by a corps of dedicated volunteers.

Park manager Scott Duncan said establishing a campground has been a high priority with the public ever since the park opened.

He said the opening of this campground—it has 27 spaces for RVs and six reserved for tents– followed earlier projects to open primitive campgrounds for individual hikers and for groups such as Boy Scouts and to develop a primitive campground, which has since been expanded, to cater to equestrians.

The campground includes six sites reserved for tent camping

Paula Dockery, a former state senator involved in securing state money for the park, said adding the campground will give more visibility to this park, which is a relatively remote location in Florida. She said initial reports are that its has remained fairly full since shortly after it opened and anyone wishing to camp there should be sure to make a reservation.

Colt Creek State Park is located at 16000 State Road 471 north of Lakeland and is open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk.