Lake Wales Ridge State Forest
Typical Florida scrub habitat
Lake Wales Ridge State Forest is a 26,653-acre property along Lake Wales Ridge in Polk County. The forest is composed of four separate tracts of land. Acquisition of the properties began in 1984 with funds from Florida's Conservation and Recreation Lands program. Because of the on-going decimation of Florida's pine scrub habitat, Lake Wales Ridge State Forest was an important acquisition owing to the lack of habitat still available for many endangered and threatened species who depend on that habitat for their existence.
Lake Wales Ridge is an ancient landform running north-south through the center of peninsular Florida. Thousands of years ago, Lake Wales Ridge was the only part of Florida that stuck out above the waves and, in that isolation, many species of life evolved here that exist nowhere else on Earth. Requiring this rare pine scrub habitat to survive are 24 plants and 19 animals that are currently on the federal and state endangered and threatened species lists. Among the various organizations working to preserve and protect the remaining vestiges of the pine scrub habitat that used to occupy millions of acres in central Florida are the Nature Conservancy, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the State of Florida and various of the local counties and water management districts.
Lake Wales Ridge State Forest offers many miles of trails to hikers and horseback riders, including 20 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Canoeing on the lakes and streams and fishing are allowed all year round. There are primitive campgrounds at Reedy Creek and at Walk-in-Water but groups will need a special use permit before they go there. Polk County operates a full facility campground at the end of Arbuckle Road, beside Lake Arbuckle.
The Arbuckle Tract of Lake Wales Ridge State Forest is found about 5 miles south of Frostproof on Lake Arbuckle Road. The Walk in the Water Tract is located about 2 miles east of Frostproof on County Road 630. Access to Walk in the Water is by foot or horseback only. There are several trails on the property and parking is available at most of the trailheads.
The Walk-in-Water and Arbuckle Wildlife Management Areas are parts of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest managed jointly with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Small photo courtesy of Anne Malatesta, Florida Division of Forestry
Map courtesy of Florida Division of Forestry