© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You Count on Us, We Count on You: Donate to WUSF to support free, accessible journalism for yourself and the community.
The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition team has trekked through scrub, swamp and forest from one end of the state to the other. They have documented their journeys in film, books and photography exhibitions with a goal demonstrating the urgent need for an unbroken spine of wilderness running the length of Florida to give wildlife a chance for survival.The third expedition kicked off April 15 and once again, WUSF News reporters are along for the adventure. This time around the explorers want to highlight an area of wilderness in Central Florida that is threatened on all sides by urban development and transportation infrastructure including Interstate 4.WUSF Public Media is a sponsor of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Follow along on with our reporters on our website and social media accounts on Facebook and on Twitter, using the hashtag #Heartland2Headwaters.

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition Starts 7-Day Trek Along The Lake Wales Ridge

A trio of conservationists trotted off on horseback into the woods of a state park near Sebring Sunday. It was the first leg of a seven-day journey to travel a natural pathway that connects two major preserved areas of Florida.  

It's the latest trek for the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, which has already gone on a pair of 1,000-mile journeys across Florida. Their aim is to publicize the need to connect natural migration pathways before they're lost forever to development.

Tampa nature photographer Carlton Ward Jr.cradled his toddler, Carlton III, on horseback just before they left Highlands Hammock State Park- which boasts more rare and endemic species than any other Florida state park.

"When he's my age, there's going to be nearly 40 million people in Florida. And we're either going to have ranches and agricultural land in a connected corridor, or we're not," he said. "And it's up to us right now to make that decision."

Ward and conservationists Joe Guthrie and Mallory Lykes Dimmitt of Tampa are off on a weeklong journey between Highlands and Polk counties. They'll hike and ride through the Lake Wales Ridge, an area of rare plants and animals that were the only parts of Florida above water during a previous bout of global warming, about two million years ago.

Only a series of small islands there poked above the rising seas. Ward said this part of the Lake Wales Ridge is home to animals and plants found nowhere else in the world.

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition
Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Carlton Ward Jr., left, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt and Joe Guthrie at the kickoff at Highlands Hammock State Park

"Lots of things converging here," Ward said during a kickoff event at Highlands Hammock State Park. "Lots of pressure and lots of opportunity. And the quilt isn't yet broken. It's still connected. And while 100 years ago the whole state was a wildlife corridor, the fact that we still have one is an amazing opportunity and it's such a privilege for us to be able to try to shine more light on that."

SPECIAL REPORT: Read more about the Florida Wildlife Corridor's past expeditions.

The Lake Wales Ridge has high, sandy soil that has traditionally been perfect for growing citrus. But now that citrus greening has decimated many groves, it's also perfect for houses.

The trio will cross U.S. 27, where state transportation planners are considering raising the road and building an underpass for wildlife. The Ridge is part of the study area for one of three new toll roads the state is currently eyeing for construction.

On Monday at 8 a.m., they'll join the staff from Archbold Biological Station on a scrub jay banding at Silver Lake Tract Lake Wales Ridge Wildlife Environmental Area.

On Tuesday, they'll visit Avon Park Harebell colony with a plant biologist and cross U.S. 27 at the site of a proposed wildlife crossing

Wednesday, they'll host a restoration roundtable at the Ridge Audubon Center, beginning at 5 p.m.

On Thursday through Saturday, they'll traverse the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, Avon Park Air Force Range and arrive at The Nature Conservancy's Tiger Creek Preserve.There will be a finaleSaturday, Oct. 26, at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales.

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition
Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
From left, Carlton Ward Jr., Mallory Lykes Dimmitt and Joe Guthrie, with passenger

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.