Weekend Backpacker: Tampa
A ridge? In Florida? Well, it just so happens that this particular ridgea rarity in the Sunshine State, to be sureis the one bit of land that's stayed high and dry since precambrian times. Back when the rest of the state was under a few feet of water, this slender, dune-capped ridge stood well above the waves. As a result, strange and unusual plant species evolved on Lake Wales Ridge, making this one of North America's most diverse biological communities, with the highest concentration of rare and endangered plants in the continental United States. Twenty miles of trail wander through the forest, and with such diversity in plant and animal lifeincluding sightings of the elusive Florida pantherhiking along the ridge above Reedy Creek is a delight. You'll marvel at the pygmy fringe tree, scrub blazing star, scrub bear grass, and Lake Placid scrub mint. Rare Florida scrub jays nest in the pine scrub. The southeastern American kestrel floats on thermals; sand skinks and gopher frogs scurry through the wetlands.
Take I-4 east to Haines City; head south on U.S. 27. About eight miles south of Lake Wales, turn left on SR 630; head through Frostproof. Two miles east of town, turn onto Lake Reedy Boulevard; turn onto Lake Arbuckle Road. Driving time: two and a half hours.
A permit is required to camp at either of the two primitive campsites along the trails, as well as in the Arbuckle and Blue Jordan primitive campgrounds. Call (941) 635-7801 for information.
State forest officials caution hikers to pack in all water; the trail sticks to the highest ridge in Florida. The forest is closed to hiking during hunting seasons; call for information. Also, this area fringes the Avon Park Bombing Rangedon't touch any suspicious synthetic object in the forest!
GUIDEBOOK AND MAPS
Map SF-3, Lake Wales Ridge/Arbuckle Tract Trail can be purchased via the Florida Trail Association; visit the website for an order form.
To make your identification of species more enjoyable, stop by the Arbuckle Biological Station website for detailed information on flora and fauna and a bibliography of books on this unique biological community.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication