Want To Help Access To Lakes, Rivers In Polk? Here’s Your Chance

Polk County commissioners are looking for volunteers who would like to serve on the county’s Lake Access Advisory Committee.

The Lake Access Advisory Committee studies how to increase public access to Polk County’s lakes and rivers and make recommendations to the County Commission. The Lake Access Advisory Committee includes 10 members appointed by the County Commission. Each commissioner appoints two members to the committee, with staggered member terms. Members appointed to the Committee serve a term of three years.

Since the committee was formed, it has been involved in reopening access to Port Hatchineha, worked with county staff on securing land and funds for new boat ramps to provide improved access to Lake Hancock, Lake Buffum and Lake Florence. Other improvements have included the addition of fishing piers at access points to accommodate more users.

Another ongoing project involves development of a blueway paddling trail along the scenic section of the Peace River in Polk County between Bartow and the county line near Bowling Green in Hardee County. One of the challenges has been to establish a program to remove downed trees that block boat access and require sometime difficult portages. This would be similar to the Polk County Waterways Department that existed in the 1960 to make the river navigable to small boats by removing trees and other debris from the waterway. The department also sprayed the channel to remove water hyacinths, which remains a navigation hazard along Saddle Creek north of Lake Hancock.

The meeting dates and location ae determined by the membership, meeting as necessary to carry out its duties.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the Polk County Lake Access Advisory Committee, please submit your resume and cover letter to miannenelson@polk-county.net by close of business on Oct. 11.

Draft Report Sets Goals For Preserving What’s Left In This Part of Florida

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a draft report for something called the Everglades To Gulf Conservation Area that includes part of the land inhabited by members of Sierra Club’s Ancient Islands Group in Polk, Hardee, Highlands and DeSoto counties.

The thrust of the 348-page report is to protect more habitat via the purchase of either conservation easements or to buy the land outright.

At this point no one knows how much land will be protected. It will depend on funding and having willing landowners who want to participate. No one’s land is going to be taken.

The purposes include wetland restoration, water storage, water treatment and species habitat.

The plan describes this area that stretches from Collier County to Polk County as “one of the most important regional conservation landscapes in the United States.”

The plan’s analysis describes that more than half of the region’s freshwater forested wetlands, upland hardwood hammocks, high pine and scrub. Pine flatwoods and wet prairies

Additionally, another 38 percent of another important habitat called dry prairie, which is home to important species such as Florida grasshopper prairie and crested caracara, remains unprotected.

Unsurprisingly, the main threat to the loss of these key habitat losses is encroachment of urban development farther inland and more intensive conversion of farm lands.



Register Now For Florida Climate Week Webinars

There’s a lot to consider in our personal lives about how we act, what we buy and even what we eat that has an impact on the climate.

An upcoming series of virtual events relating to Florida Climate Week, Oct. 2-8, are coming up and it will be a great opportunity to further educate ourselves about the various issues.

The events are being sponsored by an organization called the VoLo Foundation.

To sign up for the virtual events, go to Virtual Events – Florida Climate Week


Polk Commissioners Approve Hatchineha Sprawl Project

Dense residential sprawl development should be allowed to move deeper into rural, environmentally sensitive land in the Everglades headwaters, the Polk County Commission decided in a 3-1 vote Tuesday.

The project known as Creek Ranch is a proposed 1,876-unit subdivision that also contains some planned commercial development on the north side of Hatchineha Road between Marigold Avenue and Firetower Road in the eastern edge of Polk County.

Area residents and local environmental activisits opposed the project, citing its incompatibility with surrounding environmental preservation areas, questions about the reliability of water and sewer service and an inadequate road network to handle the thousands of new vehicles the project will eventually put on the road.

In addition, a former Polk County School Board administrator presented documents that showed school officials have been manipulating school capacity numbers at the behest of development lobbyists and their allies in the school administration to avoid building moratoriums because of inadequate school capacity.

But project representatives assured commissioners everything was fine regarding roads and utilities and maintained that the only compatibility that mattered was with adjacent developments, not the environment.

The majority of the commission bought that argument.

Meanwhile, whether the project is ever built is an unanswered question.

Owner Reggie Baxter has also applied to the state and to the Polk County Environmental Lands Program to have his property considered for a conservation easement.

A technical team from Polk County is scheduled to visit the site Sept. 29 to evaluate it.

The technical team’s report will be forwarded to the Conservation Lands Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the County Commission.



Want To Learn About Electric Vehicles? Head To Downtown Lakeland’s Munn Park Saturday

Electric vehicle owners and dealers will descend on Munn Park in downtown Lakeland on Saturday to provide information on these alternative ways of getting around without emitting greenhouse gases.

The event called Lakeland Drive Electric Day will occur from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Ancient Islands Group of Florida Sierra is one of the local organizers.

This event is part of a nationwide series of events designed to promote electric vehicles as an alternative to traditional vehicles with internal combustion engines powered by gasoline or diesel.

Electric vehicles have fewer parts than conventional vehicles. That relative simplicity has been an issue in the current autoworkers strike because the manufacture of electric vehicles will require fewer workers.

The conversion to electric vehicles is one of a number of issues under discussion of ways to fight climate change.

A newly organized group called the Polk Clean Energy Alliance is trying to reach out to educate the public about these issues.

If your organization would like to hear a presentation, contact Kathie Sutherland at kksutherla@aol.com


FWC Adds Polk’s Tiger Creek Preserve To The Great Florida Birding And Wildlife Trail Sites

Tiger Creek Preserve, a sprawling 4,980-acre mosaic of scrub and creek floodplain east of Lake Wales is now officially part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation’s Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail network.

The site, which is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, is open daily for hiking, birdwatching and general enjoyment of central Florida’s diverse plant and animal life. It is served by entrances on Pfundstein Road off Scenic Highway and Wakeford Road off Walkinwater Road. There are more than 10 miles of hiking trails.

The designation comes at a great time as temperatures begin dropping enough to attract people outdoors and migrating songbirds make their annual fall migration journeys that often include stopovers in Polk County.

The preservation of the land around Tiger Creek, a 6.8-mile winding blackwater stream that flows from the eastern edge of the Lake Wales Ridge into Lake Walkinwater at the headwaters of the Everglades, was the realization of a conservation dream that dates to the 1920s and the vision of Edward Bok, the founder of Bok Tower Gardens.

Tiger Creek Preserve is a good place to see such uncommon species as red-headed woodpeckers, scrub lizards, gopher frogs and northern bobwhites.

If you’re lucky, you might spot the tracks of a Florida black bear or a sand skink.

Fall is also a great time to enjoy a variety of striking flowering plants, such as the purple-spiked blazing stars.

For more information on Tiger Creek Preserve, go to Tiger Creek Preserve | The Nature Conservancy in Florida



Polk Officials OK More Lake Marion Protection

The Polk County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a $7.5 million purchase of 603 acres 0f undeveloped scrubland along the eastern shore of Lake Marion adjacent to Poinciana,

The purchase involved a cooperative agreement involving Polk County. Conservation Florida and The Nature Conservancy, both of which contributed funds toward the purchase. Polk’s share is $5.9 million, which will come from the Lake and River Enhancement Fund and the Stormwater Utility Fund.

Lake Marion is a 2,990-acre water body whose outlet, Lake Marion Creek, flows 8.4 miles in a winding easterly route to Lake Hatchineha in the Upper Kissimmee Chain of Lakes that form part of the headwaters for the Everglades.

The property contains some protected species such as Florida scrub-jay, gopher tortoise and sand skinks as well as extensive patch of a scrub habitat known as a rosemary bald, which is an open habitat that harbors a number of uncommon species. It is also part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor and in the area that would aid in protecting land around the Avon Park Air Force Range.

Preserving the site has the potential to reduce pollution flowing into Lake Marion, whose water quality has declined over the past three decades by keeping development away from the three miles of lakeshore and perhaps installing some stormwater treatment areas, according to county officials.

It will also add to a statewide wildlife corridor and complement the more than 7,000 acres of existing public conservation lands in the Marion Creek basin.

The property, which will be called the Bellini Preserve, will eventually be open to the public, under the agreement.

A temporary trailhead will be built sometime in 2024. By 2025, the construction of a boat ramp, parking lot and a trail network will be completed, according to the purchase agreement.

Restrooms and additional parking will be added by 2026.