By Alicia Martin
In Polk county, just between Lakeland and Bartow, is a hidden gem that very few nature lovers know about. That gem would be Circle B Bar Reserve located at 4399 Winter Lake Rd. in Lakeland. The property, which was jointly purchased in 2000 by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and Polk County’s Environmental Lands Program, is home to all species of fauna including, but not limited to: bobcats, alligators, deer, wild turkeys, raccoons, armadillos, bald eagles, red-shouldered hawks and much, much more.
Circle B Bar reserve was named after a cattle ranch that once existed on the property. The reserve was jointly acquired by the Polk County Environmental Lands Program and the District to protect the floodplain of the lake and to restore the Banana Creek marsh system. The property, which is maintained by Polk County, had previously been converted to pasture, but in 2005 and 2006, restoration projects were completed to restore much of the original hydrologic function of the lands. Oak hammock, freshwater marsh, hardwood swamp and the lakeshore are among the unique characteristics of this property.
In November 2008, construction of the Polk County Nature Discovery Center was completed. Managed by the Polk County Natural Resources Department, the center provides educational opportunities for Polk County public schools and is open to the public. There are exhibits in the center that display environmental and hydrologic functions of Florida’s natural resources. “The discovery center is great for kids to learn and play a little bit before or after hitting the trails,” said Plant City resident, Nathaniel Quintana.
Whether a serious naturalist or birder or just a dabbling novice, Circle B Bar Reserve has something for everyone. With nine trails that traverse roughly six miles of marsh and wetland habitats, Circle B can easily be a full-day experience. Take a tour down Heron Hideout and view the Great Blue Heron staking out its meal. Take Marsh Rabbit Run and see the adorable little critter the trail was named after or see the seemingly endless birds and plant life. Take Alligator Alley and prepare yourself for glimpses of some of the area’s largest reptiles mere meters from where you stand. If you find yourself at the right place at the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time), you’re likely to see one of the scaly behemoth’s cross the trail before your eyes!
During a recent expedition to Circle B, Bloomingdale resident, Michelle Colesanti, was in awe over how much wildlife she was able to see in such a small amount of time. “I recently visited there for the first time and can’t wait to return. If you are a nature enthusiast and/or love photography, Circle B provides you with a local paradise to enjoy the many birds, gators and other animals in their natural habitat,” said Colesanti. A few things to mention about visiting the reserve. Absolutely no animals are allowed on reserve property. Yes, this means dogs are not allowed. Also, respect the boundaries of other patrons and the boundaries of the wildlife. Sometimes animals can get rather close and they need space from us just as we need our own personal space. Other than that, bring lots of water, sunscreen and good walking shoes. Dress appropriately for the weather and bring bug spray as this is a wetland and mosquitoes can be very numerous. With those tidbits in mind, have fun, stay safe and remember to take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints! For more information on Circle B Bar Reserve, visit www.polknature.com and click on ‘Lands Map.’