Crooked Lake West may be closer to getting its first public visitors by the end of this year.
Polk County Environmental Lands staffers held a public meeting recently on the site’s draft management plan.
The 11,4000-acre area that includes the project contains a mixture of ranches and the legacy of a failed Florida land-sales scheme.
The site also contains two miles of shoreline on Crooked Lake, which is classified as an Outstanding Florida Water.
The property was first acquired a decade ago, but management plans have been slow to come together because of a combination of staffing shortages and the fact that the property is jointly owned by Polk County, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA holds a conservation easement on a large section of the property.
The only section open to the public is Crooked Lake Wildlife Environmental Area, which is accessed from U.S. 98. It was created to be a gopher tortoise mitigation site and contains an extensive network of hiking trails that are good for nature observation.
The only improvement planned for the property is a small parking area on an upland portion of the property.
Much of the property is seasonally flooded. That includes some of the areas of the hiking trail depicted above.
There is scrub habitat on the property that contains a good variety of endangered plant species, but it will be accessible only to groups by special arrangement.
The site also contains an archeological site of Midland, an abandoned town that existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries..
The long-term plan is to restore more of the site’s wetlands and to reduce direct discharges to Crooked Lake through canals that were dug for agricultural drainage.
A wildlife passage area that was constructed for cattle movement will remain in place.
The site contains diverse wildlife including a variety of resident and migratory songbirds, sandhill cranes, wild turkey, Florida scrub-jays and great horned owls. The area near the lake contains striking patches of wildflowers.