Water-Related News

Grant and Management Plan approved for Environmental Lands sites

An $82,000 grant and the approval of a new land management program will bring needed changes to further protect two of Polk County's critical sites in the Environmental Lands Program.

This week, the Board approved the acceptance of an $82,000 grant for Hickory Lake Scrub and the land management plan for the Crooked Lake West property. They are two of the 15 properties purchased through the program. While Hickory Lake Scrub is open to the public, Crooked Lake West is not. But that could soon be changing.

The Environmental Lands Program was established in November 1994. Through the program, which was set by a self-imposed tax passed by Polk's constituents, the county has acquired and preserved more than 24,000 acres.

The Hickory Lake Scrub grant agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program will fund a habitat restoration project at the property.

The project will focus on the restoration of a fallow citrus grove to a more scrub-like habitat and expand the habitat for threatened species like the Florida scrub jay and sand skink. During the project, which must be completed by Oct. 31, 2021, $62,000 is slated to hire a contractor who will heavily seed and maintain the area for a year, and $20,000 will be used to repair the irrigation structure and pump for the restoration project.

The Board also approved a new management plan for the County's Crooked Lake West property, a vast 5,888-acre property, which is jointly owned by the county, Southwest Florida Water Management District, and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Crooked Lake West provides water values and other natural resource benefits to the region by protecting watershed of the Peace River and Kissimmee River and enhancing the Lake Wales Ridge Corridor.

"The management plan helps provide us guidance," Tabitha Biehl, Polk's Land and Water Natural Areas manager, told Commissioners recently during a work session. The overall purpose of the management plan is to document the site’s natural resources, define management goals and provide guidance of appropriate nature-based recreational development and recreation management.

Biehl further explained the plan will identify specific areas of action for the property, which include:

  • Compatible nature-based recreation and environmental education
  • Restoration projects
  • Invasive species control
  • Prescribed burning
  • Monitoring projects

"I see the plan as a very dynamic document," said County Manager Bill Beasley. "It's going to ebb and flow as things change. It will, I believe, form the basis for the next 10, 15, 20 years' worth of activity out there and will form the basis for any potential cooperative funding between the federal and state agencies."

"This is really going to provide quality passive recreational activities for generations to come," Beasley continued.

The plan also will be submitted to the South and Southwest Florida Water Management District boards following Board approval.