In an unlikely corner of Polk County where bald eagles and caracara soar, history was made Jan. 18, 2012. That is the day The Nature Conservancy donated a piece of its Hatchineha Ranch to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a cornerstone for the establishment of the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazaar, Nature Conservancy Chief Operating Officer Brian McPeek and Florida Board of Trustees Chairperson John Robert Middlemas joined more than 40 others to not only authorize the new 150,000 refuge but establish it.
The Conservancy bought Hatchineha Ranch in 2008, preventing its proposed development into 5,000 single-family and multi-family homes and a golf course. “It’s one of the Conservancy’s most exciting and significant acquisitions ever,” said Director of Protection Keith Fountain. “The Florida panther — on the brink of extinction — is one of several rare species recently documented on the ranch.”
The central Florida property is a final piece of the huge, interconnected conservation landscape surrounding Lake Hatchineha in the upper Kissimmee River basin. Just across the lake is the Conservancy’s beautifully restored 12,000-acre Disney Wilderness Preserve.
What makes Hatchineha Ranch special?
- 5,134 total acres.
- Listed species include the Florida panther, gopher tortoise, Florida scrub-jay, sand skink, crested caracara, and southeastern kestrel.
- Natural communities include scrub, sandhill and flatwoods; swamp, marsh and prairie; blackwater stream and rare cutthroat seepage slope.
- It’s adjacent to two other protected areas: Catfish Creek Preserve State Park and the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes.
- Restoring Hatchineha Ranch’s historic wetlands – impacted by agricultural ditching many years ago – will be a major milestone in the Conservancy’s strategy to protect the Kissimmee River and northern Everglades watersheds.
Native plants and animals will revel on this property. The Conservancy and our partners eagerly anticipate restoration and long-term conservation of Hatchineha Ranch’s wild spaces and hope more of the ranch can eventually become part of the new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation area.