from bottom vegetation give Tiger Creek its name.
Orange stripes from bottom vegetation give Tiger Creek its name. © Ralph Pace

Places We Protect

Tiger Creek Preserve

Florida

Atop Florida’s largest “ancient island,” we protect plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth.

Tiger Creek Preserve is a place of mystery and contrasts. It sits on the eastern edge of the Lake Wales Ridge, one of Florida’s “ancient islands.” Separated from the mainland long ago by a shallow sea, the Ridge is peninsular Florida’s oldest and highest landmass.

Fast forward to the present day, this ancient separation is the reason why the preserve has one of the highest concentrations of threatened and endangered plants and animals in the country. Some exist nowhere else on Earth.

Named after the pristine blackwater stream that forms its spine, the preserve contains hardwood swamps, hammocks, scrubby flatwoods, pine flatwoods, sandhill and longleaf pine/wiregrass habitat. It’s a land that must be burned in order to survive, and one where some animals literally swim through ancient white sands.

Why TNC Selected this Site 

Tiger Creek Preserve is a critical link in a network of preserves designed to protect what is left of the Lakes Wales Ridge ecosystem. The oldest physical feature of peninsular Florida, the Ridge is a national hotspot of biological diversity and Tiger Creek Preserve is home to fascinating species. The preserve’s sandy soil also serves a critical role in water recharge

Tiger Creek is home to two high-quality, seepage blackwater streams including Patrick Creek. A seepage stream gets its water from the surrounding uplands; the blackwater comes from the leaching of tannins from falling vegetation. Only two or three such streams with an intact hardwood floodplain exist in Florida. 

How we Preserve the Site

TNC has protected almost the entire course of Tiger Creek. We carefully maintain and improve habitat for the preserve’s many rare species, especially with prescribed burns and invasive species removal. Through species monitoring, TNC provides critical feedback to land managers all along the Ridge.

You can learn to live safely in Florida’s flammable landscape at Tiger Creek Center, which provides a demonstration of “Firewise” construction and landscaping practices.

 

The preserve welcomes visitors during daylight hours.

What to See: Plants

An array of extremely rare plants includes the scrub plum, pygmy fringe tree, Lewton’s polygala, scrub ziziphus and Carter’s mustard. Tiger Creek shelters 10 plants that are federally-listed as threatened or endangered; four are found only on the Lake Wales Ridge. 

What to See: Animals

Visitors might spot a short-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk or American kestrel flying overhead. The preserve is also home to the sand skink, gopher tortoise, Florida mouse, indigo snake and gopher frog.

Things to Do

Six hiking trails are open to the public:

  • The George Cooley Trail is an easy 0.6-mile loop that goes through a variety of natural habitats: scrubby flatwoods, hardwood swamp, pine flatwoods and cutthroat seeps. Allow 30 minutes–1 hour.
  • The Pfundstein Trail is the gateway to all the loop trails. This 3.8-mile round-trip hike in itself provides a nice introduction to the preserve for beginners.
  • From the Pfundstein Trail, you can access the Heron Pond Loop for a 4.2-mile round trip from the parking area. Allow two hours. You can also connect to the Highlands Trail for a 7.2-mile, sandy loop that takes you through a beautiful, open pine woods area called the “central highlands.” Allow four hours. Note: The Patrick Creek bridge and Loop are closed due to high water.
  • The Wakeford Trail, at the Wakeford Road entrance off of Walk-in-Water Road on the East side of the preserve, is a short one-mile round trip to a bridge across the blackwater of Tiger Creek. Continuing on, you can connect with the Creek Bluffs Trail, a 1.6-mile loop that follows along Tiger Creek with high bluff overlooks, traversing longleaf pine and turkey oak sandhill habitat for a total of 3.6 miles. Seven of the 10 federally listed species are found near the trail. There are steep (for Central Florida) elevation changes atop some of the highest peaks on the preserve. You'll view shallow ponds more than 30 feet below, where wildlife congregates in the mornings and evenings. From the Creek Bluffs Trail, you can access the Highlands Loop Trail for a 6+ mile, sandy loop that takes you through a beautiful, open pine woods area called the “central highlands.” Allow three hours.

Only foot travel is permitted, and you are asked to stay on marked trails. To protect the preserve’s rare plants and animals, the following are not allowed: pets, smoking, littering, camping, collecting, firearms, fires, hunting and radios. Visitors should bring drinking water. Please—leave dogs at home. 

Innovative Projects

  • Leading Productive Partnerships. From Tiger Creek Preserve, TNC engages in partnerships with federal, state and county agencies, water management districts, universities and other non profit organizations. The Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Working Group, considered one of the most successful land management consortia in the country, provides a framework for TNC to collaborate with partners on a variety of mutual concerns along the Ridge.
  • Controlling Invasive, Non-Native Species. We spearhead Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) in most counties throughout Central Florida, bringing together private and public partners to help prevent, prioritize, control and remove invasive species. From the preserve we coordinate the Heartland CISMA. We also expanded Python Patrol, a program started in the Keys to help with identification, reporting and response training to address the invasive Burmese python and other nonnative animal problems in south Florida. This program has since been transitioned to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
  • Active Fire Management. Fire is critical to maintain the natural plant and animal diversity of fire-dependent habitats within Tiger Creek Preserve. Fire is a natural process that is vital to the cycling of nutrients in poor soils and the flowering/seeding process of many plants. Our professional fire crews safely implement controlled burns on this landscape on a regular basis, resulting in a healthy landscape that both preserves the pyrogenic natural diversity, and reduces the intensity of unintentional fires. Operating out of the Tiger Creek Preserve, these fire crews also assist both public and private landowners in the Central Florida region with their fire activities, often providing key resources, information and staff along the Ridge in order to get good fire on the ground. Our Central Florida Ecosystem Restoration Team was a model of effective fire management in Florida and around the world, and we continue to provide training and assistance to fire professionals of all levels of experience today.
  • A Laboratory for Innovative Projects. Many innovative conservation projects got their start here at the preserve and were later transitioned to our partner organizations. Ridge Rangers, now managed by FWC, is a volunteer program helping to restore wildlife habitat on the Lake Wales Ridge. Jay Watch, now run by Audubon Florida, monitors the threatened Florida scrub jay. We have also developed tools at the preserve to assist with conservation planning, to connect and buffer conservation areas.

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