Saturday, January 18, 2020

Circle B Bar Reserve, Lakeland, Florida, January 15, 2020

Distance: 5.5 miles (RT)

Location: The Reserve is located at 4399 Winter Lake Road in Lakeland. Trails are well signed and maps are available.

Note: A good portion of this hike is without shade. Bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water.

Originally wetlands connected to Lake Hancock, this area was drained for cattle farming and in 1949 became a working cattle ranch: the Circle B Bar Ranch.

In 2000, the property was purchased from the Belloto family by area county commissioners and Southwest Florida Water Management District with plans of restoration. The effort recreated the wetland and is now home to several distinct ecosystems and hundreds of plants and animal species. Polk's Nature Discovery Center, which serves as a visitor's center and educational program and meeting venue, is located at the end of the road. There is no fee to enter the Reserve, which has picnic tables, restrooms (mostly portajohns), and nature trails.

Hiked with Sue and Elethia today.  I'd heard a lot about the Reserve but passed on previous offers to hike as it's a long drive for me; seemed like a lot of effort for just five or six miles of hiking. But I figured it was time to check the place out (and there was a promise of catfish for lunch after the hike!).     

We arrived just before 9:00; the Discovery Center not yet open.  Fog engulfed Lake Hancock and only a few folks were on the trails (mostly photographers).

We started on the Shady Oak trail toward Alligator Alley and Marsh Rabbit Run.  Oak trees shaded our path. Two feral hogs rooted around in the grass next to the trail (hogs are very elusive - it was pretty incredible to see them just a few feet from us!).

Here "Wildlife has the right of way!"

Mellow path - plenty of lazy oaks!

The inhabitants of the Reserve were going about their day.  We saw dozens of Anhingas, whistling ducks, herons, and ibises.  

Lake Hancock just waking up.

One of the many Anhingas.

Raccoons simply walked along the path, oblivious to us.  

One of the three raccoons - very close.

Heading along Alligator Alley.

Flock of whistling ducks.

We went left at the trail junction onto Wading Bird Way.  The lake lies to the left and right of this berm.  This "trail" is a dirt road; we had to make way for the Reserve's tram.

Trail junction. We went left.

Obligatory gator shot.....

At the end of Wading Bird Way is another junction. Right leads to the Fort Fraser Connector Trail and the end of the Reserve; left loops around via the back side of the water, eventually back toward the Discovery Center. We went left.

This portion of the hike is out in the open and the sun was just peeking through the fog - it was getting warm. Some shade is available once the road swings to the left.  

Eagle Roost trail has an eagle's nest(left, in the distance).

Eventually we wound up back at the junction of Alligator Alley and Marsh Rabbit Run. We headed straight, taking a left on Treefrog Trail.

Treefrog Trail is more trail than road: narrow, and sweetly lined with a few citrus trees. It's somewhat shaded and very pleasant but the trail drops you off at the entrance to the Reserve so we had to walk the paved road back toward the Discovery Center.

A family of feral hogs were grazing in a field.

Mother pig ushering her babes back in the woods.

A big educational event was planned for the next day and tents were being set up in a field. We checked out a small cabin, part of a recreated nineteenth century cow camp where ranch hands would gather livestock in preparation for a cattle drive. Beyond the field and cabin is the Lost Bridge trail, a somewhat wet path that leads to the Discovery Center.

Image may contain: Sue Mitchell, smiling, house, sky, tree and outdoor
Part of the cow camp re-creation. Photo courtesy of Sue.

Lovely bridge on Lost Bridge trail.

Not sure if the bridge above is the reason for the name of the trail but after trekking through the often-flooded portion of the path, I wonder if the bridge lost might have been one that should be over the wet trail!  Those who hike in Florida regularly expect a portion of trails to be under water and plan for it with a change of footwear at the end of the journey.

About 50 yards of the trail was wet.

Back to the car and changed, we headed to Catfish Country in Bartow, just a few miles from the Reserve.

Visiting Circle B Bar Reserve is definitely worth the drive!  The park is open until sunset, a popular time to view wildlife.  I'll definitely be back here, lots to see.

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