Our Group Area

The Ancient Islands Group includes Polk, Highlands, Hardee, DeSoto and Sumter Counties – all have unique ecosystems.


The Lake Wales Ridge (Polk & Highlands)


When the sea level was 150 feet higher than it is today, the only dry land was a series of prehistoric islands. During the hundreds of thousands of years of isolation from the mainland, new species of flora and fauna evolved here, producing dozens of species found nowhere else on the planet. Today the Lake Wales Ridge, home of the first national wildlife refuge established solely to protect rare plants, consists of a mosaic of ridges, lakes, prairies, marshes and forest that stretches from the outskirts of Orlando to the edge of Lake Okeechobee. During the past century, an estimated 85 percent of the original scrub habitat has been converted to citrus groves and urban development. The remaining intact habitat is a high priority for purchase with Florida Forever funds, which have been reduced by the Florida Legislature despite voter approval to expand purchases.  For further information visit the Archbold Biological Station website at  www.archbold-station.org


Bone Valley (Polk, Hardee & DeSoto)

Bone Valley is the region of central Florida that encompasses portions of Polk, Hardee, DeSoto, Hillsborough and Manatee counties in which phosphate is mined for the production of fertilizer and other products. Florida contains the largest known deposits of phosphate in the United States. The area was dubbed Bone Valley because of the enormous deposits of fossilized bones which have been discovered here. Many of the finds have been made during the phosphate strip mining process. The bones of land animals are mostly from the Pleistocene age and those of marine creatures are mainly found within the Miocene-Pliocene phosphate layer. One of our priorities has been to improve reclamation, which was not required until 1975, to restore native habitat and surface water flow that was damaged by mining and related activities.    For more information visit Sierra Club’s phosphate issue page at Phosphate Mining | Sierra Club

Peace River (Polk, Hardee & DeSoto)

The Peace River‘s 2,350-square-mile watershed begins in the Green Swamp in north Polk County. The river begins at the confluence of Saddle Creek and Peace Creek in Bartow and flows 105 miles to Charlotte Harbor.   The 105-mile-long river provides wildlife habitat, recreation and drinking water for residents in the region, However, more than a century of phosphate mining, farming and development has damaged the river. The most notable event was the cessation of flow at Kissengen Spring south of Bartow in 1950 as a result of excessive groundwater pumping that lowered the aquifer level in the river’s upper reaches. This lowering of the aquifer resulted in periodic disappearance of flow in sections of the river north of Fort Meade in recent decades. Lake Hancock’s regulated level has since been raised to store more water to maintain minimum flows in the river. A treatment marsh south of the lake was developed to reduce pollution flowing downstream as the result of more than half a century of accumulated nutrients from municipal and industrial sewage discharges that remain in the lake’s sediments and water. The improvements aid the estuary at the river’s mouth to maintain a healthy fishery. .  A web address for more information is: http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/waterman/peaceriver/


Green Swamp (Polk & Sumter)


The real liquid heart of Florida is the 560,000 acre Green Swamp. It includes portions of Polk, Lake, Sumter, Pasco, and Hernando counties that lie over and feed via natural recharge the Green Swamp potentiometric high, which rises up to 132 feet above mean sea level near Polk City. Like a water tower, it provides the underground pressure to a multitude of springs, the base flow of five major rivers, and hydrologic support for countless lakes, ponds, seeps, and wetlands. Its ground water pressure supplies water to the majority of Florida’s population and holds back salt-water intrusion into the aquifer along the heavily populated east and west coasts. The wetlands of its river systems (Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha, Hillsborough, Peace, & Kissimmee) provide invaluable wildlife habitat and comprises a hub for many of  Florida’s foremost wildlife corridors reaching all corners of the state. For more information, go to Inside Central Florida’s Green Swamp – News – The Ledger – Lakeland, FL

Fisheating Creek (Highlands)


Fisheating Creek is the only free-flowing tributary to Lake Okeechobee. The 50- mile long stream flows from southwest Highlands County into Glades County where it spreads out into Cowbone Marsh before entering the lake. Framed by cypress swamps and hardwood hammocks, it has long been valued for its scenic beauty. Strategically located in relation to Big Cypress Swamp, Okaloacoochee Slough, Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area, Lake Okeechobee, and the Lake Wales Ridge, it is critical to the long-term survival of Florida panthers, black bears, swallow-tailed kites, sandhill cranes, crested caracara, and a number of other species native to the area. For more information visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisheating_Creek

Kissimmee River (Polk & Highlands)


The Kissimmee River historically meandered 103 miles from Lake Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee. Prolonged flooding from hurricanes in 1947 resulted in a call for flood control. In 1948, Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct the Central and South Florida Project. Between 1960 and 1971, the Kissimmee River was transformed from a beautiful, meandering river into a 56-mile- ditch known as the C-38 Canal. Studies showed a resulting 90 percent loss of waterfowl populations, a 70 percent loss of Bald Eagle populations and the loss of largemouth bass fisheries. In 1992, Congress authorized the Kissimmee River Restoration Project. Stretching from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes to Lake Okeechobee, the project will restore more than 40 square miles of the riverine habitat, including 40 miles of the original meandering river channel and more than 12,000 acres of wetlands. This will involve filling 22 miles of C-38 while guaranteeing flood protection for communities in the unrestored section of the river floodplain. . For more information visit: https://www.sfwmd.gov/our-work/kissimmee-river

Lake Wales Ridge
Peace River
Green Swamp
Kissimmee River