Plans for future public access and use of the Crooked Lake West property will be the topic of a public meeting June 14 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Babson Park Women’s Club on State Road 17.
Polk County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District bought the property 10 years ago after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service purchased a conservation easement on a substantial portion of the property. It is a former private cattle ranch—some grazing still occurs on the property—on both sides of U.S. 27 west of Crooked Lake and south of Lake Wales.
USDA officials plan to eventually restore extensive wetlands on the site that were drained by a network of ditches to create pasture. Planning public access to the property has been delayed, pending the county’s getting more information on the federal plan for the property to avoid any conflicts.
Although the area of the site nearer to U.S. 27 consists of extensive wetlands, sections farther west contain scrub habitat.
The property also is being used by Swiftmud officials to drill an exploratory well to test the feasibility of pumping water from the Lower Floridan Aquifer to meet future water demand as more people move to Polk County.
Some potential uses for the property include hiking, nature observation and waterfowl hunting.