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Water, Wings and Wild Things.

In May 2005 we were asked by our Management Company if we would like to go for a meal in Florida's "redneck" country. With a little trepidation we took up there kind offer and consequently arrived at the Cotton Pocket restaurant on the edge of Lake Pierce. Nestling in a wooded area surrounded by fishermen's shacks this restaurant is somewhat different from those on the 192. There is no glass in the windows - just netting. The toilet facilities are rather archaic, reminded us of our younger days brought up in terrace homes with the toilet a trek across the yard. Yes this was the same - 1 toilet shared by both sexes. The steaks were fantastic and an evening really enjoyed by all. We actually returned the following week with our family. We could then visualise why Polk County, Florida's second largest county, has been known for some time as the "Bass capital of the World".

Imagine that you are flying over Polk County and you are able to zoom in the picture, what you will see is a county of 554 lakes of various shapes and sizes ranging up to the 5930 acre Lake Kissimmee. This is a totally different side of Florida than the parks and an experience well worth taking on board. Wherever you are staying in Central Florida you will never be far from the US27 road. The US27 divides Polk County from north to south and the area to the east of it is a different world to that around Kissimmee. Long before the theme parks, and even humans, Central Florida was an ocean and this eastern area of Polk County was its beach. This sandbar island is where various animal and plant species thrived and is what we now know as Lake Wales Ridge. It is now the home of many rare plant and animal species including the very rare Florida ziziphus which was thought to be extinct until a population was discovered in 1987.

Popular fishing spots for bass are to be found at the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes, Lake Kissimmee Chain and the Tenoroc Fish Management Area. Bank and pier fishing is available at many locations and full details can be found by visiting www.polk.wateratlas.usf.edu which also lists recreation amenities. Licences and bait can be obtained at local tackle shops.

Wilderness trails are in abundance supplying close-up views of the real Florida. Some of the trails are located at Lake Kissimmee State Park, Gator Creek Reserve, Tiger Creek Preserve, Circle B Bar Reserve and Lake Wales Ridge State Forest. The shorter trails are at Crooked Lake Sandhill, Hickory Lake Scrub, Pine Ridge Nature Preserve and North-Walk-in-Water Creek.

The whole area is a bird paradise with over 250 different species being recorded in Polk County. The 1,200 acre marsh, cypress swamp and oak hammock Circle B Bar Reserve is home to waders, ibises, shorebirds and bald eagles. At Gator Creek Reserve you will find the Summer tanager, Carolina chickadee, yellow-throated warbler and blue-gray gnatcatcher. Lake Kissimmee State Park hosts a wide variety including scrub-jays, caracaras, bald eagles, turkeys, bobwhites and snail kites and at Crooked Lake Prairie, scrub-jays, waders, kingfishers, bobwhites, meadowlarks, towhees and the uncommon northern harrier can be seen.

The first thing which comes to mind relating to Florida wild life is the official State reptile -the alligator. Although normally very wary of humans, it must still be treated with respect and as with most Florida wild life it is illegal to feed them. To appreciate more about the area wildlife and eco-system, guided airboat rides are available at Camp Mack River Resort, Gator Country Airboat Tours and Westgate River Ranch Resort.

Just one tip. To make your visit more pleasant take some effective insect repellent. It works well keeping those mosquitoes away.

By Mike & Kath Trevena

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