On a recent winter day, I needed a nature fix, so I visited one of my favorite places—Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland. With warm temperatures and a cloudy sky, I set off for the place that brings me serenity.
Although I would prefer to keep it secret, I share my special place in hopes that all who visit will learn respect for the wildlife that call this place home. In doing so, you too may reconnect with nature and find a peace that you may not get to feel in your day-to-day routine.
Once upon a time, Circle B was a cattle ranch. It was acquired in December 2000 by Polk County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The main reason for this acquisition is to protect the valuable water and wildlife resources and to restore the Banana Creek marsh system, but we all benefit. The reserve is 1,267 acres and as you walk the trails, you will go through several different ecosystems. There are over six miles of trails, which are well marked and vary in length.
Plan to stop in at the Polk Nature Discovery Center to learn about the local environment. The younger crowd will enjoy the exhibits. There are brochures you can pick up there listing all of the birds you might see. If you are only looking for a short walk, from there you can walk a half-mile hike to the lake, where you’re sure to see alligators and other wildlife.
I like to start my walk on Heron Hideout then walk down Marsh Rabbit Run to the Wading Bird Way. It wraps around to Eagle Roost and then Alligator Alley back to the Discovery Center. This particular route is around four miles. Trail maps are available at the Discovery Center or online. Take your time on all the trails. Stop to watch the birds sunning, preening and feeding. Take a few deep breaths and just enjoy the view.
Circle B is great in all seasons, but can get very hot in the summer. If you choose to visit during those months, you may want to go around sunrise or sunset; great times of the day for photo ops. Not only do the bird sightings change with the seasons, so does the landscape. No matter the time of year, the abundance of birds, insects and other wildlife in constantly changing light make this a photographer’s paradise.
While many types of birds call Circle B home, some are year-round while others visit mostly from October through April. Late winter will give you the best variety of bird sightings. It is also mating season for a lot of species and Circle B is a major breeding area. It is not a zoo, but if the weather is decent and you stop to pay attention, you are always guaranteed to see something new.
If you choose to visit, please leave your pets at home. They are not allowed in the reserve. Many alligators inhabit Lake Hancock and the waters close to many of the trails. Alligators do cross the paths (they have the right of way). Please respect their space. If you are lucky enough, you may also see raccoons, otters, bobcats, wild boars and other wildlife.
Circle B is free to visit and is located at 4399 Winter Lake Rd. in Lakeland, about 45 to 50 minutes from the Brandon area. It is open daily from 6 a.m.-6:30 p.m. during standard time and 5:30 a.m.-8 p.m. during daylight savings time.
For more information, visit www.polknature.com/explore/circle-b-bar-reserve.