Polk's Nature Discovery Center and Polk County's Environmental Land Sites are the perfect place for families, school groups, teachers, adults and other visitors to explore the outdoors and learn about our environment. Exploring connections in nature is the focus of programs and resources available. A variety of programs are designed for all ages to enhance your visit. If you are planning to bring a group of 10 participants or more, we request you schedule your visit with our office. Staff, volunteers and facilities are limited, but we will do our best to help you plan your visit. It is strongly recommended that reservations / requests are made well in advance. Regardless of what you plan to do on you next visit, we hope you have a memorable time discovering Polk's water, wildlife and wilderness.
Concerned about the loss of native habitat, there was a citizen grassroots effort in the early 1990s that promoted funding environmental lands acquisition and management program to protect water, wildlife and wilderness resources. Polk County is fortunate to be the headwaters of several rivers, contains portions of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern along with many of the scrub/sandhill ridges. At the request of this citizen's initiative, the Polk County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) placed a referendum question to the public to ask if they would agree to levy a tax on themselves to fund a local environmental lands program. A majority voted in favor of this concept, so with the success of the November 8, 1994 Referendum, Polk County now has a funded environmental land acquisition and management program. Trust funds for acquisition and management were set up to receive funding from the 0.2 mill ad valorem levy. The purpose of the Environmental Lands Program is to acquire, preserve, protect, manage, and restore endangered and environmentally sensitive lands, water resources and important wildlife habitat. Acquired properties may be used for passive outdoor recreational purposes provided that such uses will not disturb or degrade the environmental quality for which the site was acquired.
Polk County Environmental Lands Ordinances #94-40 and #94-73 provides the legal framework from which the Environmental Lands Program must operate. Also, the Polk County Comprehensive Plan has two policies, 2.309-B4 and 2.309-B5 that require the County to set up an Environmental Lands Acquisition Program and to acquire a minimum amount of acreage each year. Ordinance 08-003 as amended provides the framework for guiding the visiting public to Polk County's environmental lands.
Polk County Board of County Commissioners through their Environmental Lands Program works closely with non-profits, local, state and federal level agencies. The partnerships that have been developed over the years have resulted in a great benefit to the citizens of Polk County. For every dollar spent from the Polk County Environmental Lands Program for acquisition projects, three dollars were brought in by these partnerships. In addition, to acquiring land in partnerships, we have been successful in partnering for infrastructure projects to enhance visitors experience on environmental lands. Some of these projects include funding from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, such as for the enhancements to Lakeland Highlands Scrub allowing the construction of a boardwalk to view the marsh, and the addition of picnic shelters.