New Preserve Trail Opens; Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony March 1
Bok Tower Gardens is hosting a community ribbon-cutting ceremony together with the Lake Wales Chamber of Commerce to celebrate the opening of its new 1.5-mile Preserve Trail on Friday, March 1 at 9 a.m. The event takes place just inside the Gardens’ main gate at one of two new picnic shelters constructed as part of the project. Admission to the Gardens is free until 10 a.m. for anyone wishing to attend.
David Price, president of Bok Tower Gardens, will host the morning’s presentation. Special guests confirmed for the event include: Rachelle Selser with Green Horizon Land Trust; Vince Lamb from the Florida Wildflower Foundation; Callie Neslund and Karla Guzman-Mins with Mosaic Corporation; and Jeff Spence and Rosalind Smith with Polk County Parks & Natural Resources, all of whom helped make this project possible. Additional support was provided by CSX Corporation, Vaughn-Jordan Foundation, and the State of Florida, Florida Wildflower Advisory Council.
Immediately following the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bok Tower Gardens’ Director of Horticulture Greg Kramer will host a narrated, 45-minute trail walk for those who want to be among the first to explore and learn more about the Preserve habitat.
“The open agriculture and pine lands around Bok Tower Gardens are important to preserving the historic design and beauty of the garden laid out by Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr.,” said David Price, president of Bok Tower Gardens. “We are happy to have so many partners in the preservation of this land.”
In 2005, the Florida Community Trust awarded a $2.5 million grant to Bok Tower Gardens’ partner, the Green Horizon Land Trust, to preserve 260 acres of open lands surrounding the Gardens as vistas critically important to the historic design of the Gardens.
Through the partnership with Green Horizon Land Trust, Bok Tower Gardens is responsible for managing these open lands, now known as the Bok Tower Gardens Preserve. Approximately 156 of these acres are being restored to Longleaf Pine forest, others will remain in citrus production, and the rest are in their native natural state and are being enhanced. These lands can be seen along the scenic entrance drive to the Gardens.
“The Green Horizon Land Trust has been invaluable in helping us preserve this land along with over 5,000 acres throughout Polk, Highlands, and Osceola counties,” Price said.
As part of the land management agreement, Bok Tower Gardens committed to developing hiking trails, educational and interpretive signage, picnic shelters, recreational opportunities, and restoration of former agricultural lands to pine forest.
Education about the natural landscape of Bok Tower Gardens is a core component of the Gardens’ mission. The new Preserve Trail engages and inspires learners of all ages about one of Florida’s most endangered ecosystems and the ongoing efforts to restore and protect it.
At the adjacent Lake Wales High School, a second public-use picnic shelter has been constructed on Preserve lands for visitors to enjoy sweeping views of Bok Tower with citrus groves in the foreground. Additionally, faculty and students can use the shelter as an “outdoor classroom” for a one-of-a-kind learning environment.
This project is also designed to help restore native Florida habitat of Longleaf Pine forest and rare plants on the Bok Tower Preserve. It opens up these protected lands to visitors in an environmentally-responsible way that promotes physical exploration, family sharing and creative learning.
As part of a Florida Wildflower Foundation/Viva Florida 500 project in August 2012, a team of 71 volunteers spent six days and 370 hours planting more than 13,000 wildflowers and native grasses on a one-acre area surrounding the Preserve’s new picnic shelter and parking area, site of the March 1 event. Some of the species include Blazing Star (Liatris laevigata), Wiregrass (Aristida stricta), and Chapman’s goldenrod (Solidago odora var. chapmanii). Those who helped included individuals, families, Boy Scout troops, and the Ridge Rangers—a group of volunteers who focus on helping restore and support the Lake Wales Ridge ecosystem.
“Without the support of these dedicated volunteers, it would have been difficult to complete such a large task,” said Katrina Noland, land steward at Bok Tower Gardens. “Not only were these volunteers able to make a lasting impact on the environment, they also received a firsthand education and experienced the nature of this threatened ecosystem.”
Along the new Preserve Trail, visitors take a journey through the Preserve from the Gardens’ main entrance gate to the visitor center. It has been paved with pebble rock from phosphate mines, rich in fossils from Central Florida’s “Bone Valley,” which lends an additional regional interest. Ten interpretive signs along the trail tell about the flora, fauna and wildlife of this habitat, the ecological role of fire, and the natural history of the Lake Wales Ridge.