By Elam Stoltzfus
“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” –Proverbs 29:18
In the late 90s fine art landscape photographer, Clyde Butcher, and I partnered with the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program to create an educational video and collect images for them. One of our focal points was to tell a story about the Peace River, a tributary into Charlotte Harbor. Less than hour from downtown Orlando, , the Peace River is born in Polk County’s Lake Hancock. Early one morning we traveled by airboat to the lake with a biologist from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). During our tour, he talked about how Polk County, through the Polk County Environmental Lands Program, and the SWFWMD hoped to purchase the ranch on the west side of the lake: the Circle B Bar Ranch. Since this ranch borders the headwaters of the Peace River, it is important for the ranch to stay as close to its natural state as possible. If someone muddies the water upstream, your water downstream is dirty.
I learned that the county and the state wanted to restore this land to its natural state. How were they going to convert pastureland back to marshes? “Good luck with that,” is what I thought at the time.
More than a decade later I returned to this region for an event at Bok Tower Garden in Lake Wales with Carlton Ward, Jr. After the event Florida Wildlife Federation board member Bob Taylor said he had something to show me. The following morning he drove my wife, Esther, and me to Circle B Bar Ranch—now the Circle B Bar Reserve. It had been purchased by the SWFWMD and Polk County in 2000.
What I saw surprised me—they did it!
I saw flocks of wading birds, restored marshes, and stands of pines showing new native growth. At the entrance to the reserve the county built a state of the art Nature Discovery Center with working classrooms, multimedia exhibits, and teaching tools that showcase the local habitats. The grounds have several miles of hiking trails that make this place a perfect location for wildlife observation.
To me, this is a great story where a community had a vision—and followed that vision to make it a reality. Lake Hancock and the surrounding area is now restored and protected—a public preserve for all to enjoy and a “must see” nature spot for Polk County.
For more information on Circle B Bar Reserve visit: http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/recreation/areas/circlebbarreserve.html
For more information on Polk’s Nature Discovery Center, located at Circle B Bar Reserve, visit: http://www.polknature.com/discovery/