Where is the Lake Wales Ridge, and how did it form?
The Ridge is about 110 miles long, running from south of Lake Placid to north of Clermont; and averages about 15 miles in width.
US 27 runs on top of the Ridge.
The Lake Wales Ridge is the largest, highest, and the oldest of the ridges of Central Florida. Other nearby ridges include the Winter Haven Ridge, Bombing Range Ridge, and the Mount Dora Ridge.
The average height of the Lake Wales Ridge is about 100 feet above sea level; however, some sections are much higher: the hill at Bok Tower near Lake Wales is 295 feet above sea level.
The ridges were formed as coastal ridges when the seas were higher, and the Lake Wales Ridge is at least a million years old. The ridges are sometimes collectively called “Florida’s Ancient Islands”.
Why so special?
As the ridges were once isolated islands, they developed unique habitats and ecosystems that survive … and thrive when conserved … to this day.
Thanks to these unique ecosystems, the local area is a hotspot for endemics (species that are found only in one location). Highlands and Polk counties are #10 and #11 on the list for rare species in the whole country!
The Florida Scrub Jay is an example of an endangered endemic.
Two habitats that are found only here are “Ancient Scrub” (primarily low scrub oak with lots of open sand) and “Sandhill” (Pine and Turkey Oak on rolling sandhills). Many conservation areas on the Ridge have one or both of these habitats.
We get most of our water from rainfall recharging the aquifers underneath where we live. The natural lands provide the water … naturally and free.
It’s part of our heritage: first the Native Americans, then the pioneers and early ranchers valued these special habitats.
We still have wildland on Lake Wales Ridge … and wild things live here, like over 300 black bears in Highlands and Polk Counties. Also, bald eagles and panthers use the area as a corridor!