The Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, which was begun with a token 10-acre tract at The Nature Conservancy’s Hatchineha Ranch property in 2012, is slowing taking shape.
The refuge boundary covers 745,000 acres in Polk, Osceola, Highlands and Okeechobee counties. The plan was to acquire at least 150,000 acres—a substantial amount of land is already in public or private conservation ownership—through purchase of the land or purchase of conservation easements. Some land will not be considered because landowners have said they are not interested.
Today at the Lake Wales Ridge Environmental Working Group, Oliver van den Ende, the refuge’s new manager, reported that 6,170 acres has been acquired though land or easement purchases. The purchases include land adjacent to Lake Wales Ridge State Forest’s Arbuckle Tract and Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park in Polk County.
The purchases occurred in 2015 and 2016, van den Ende said.
Some public access is being planned for the site on Old Avon Park Road adjacent to the state forest, he said.
Meanwhile, additional land is being protected in the area under a separate effort to buffer the Avon Park Air Force Range from incompatible development. That effort is ongoing as well.
For more information on the refuge, go to https://www.fws.gov/southeast/evergladesheadwaters/