Tiger Creek Preserve in Florida
Tiger Creek Preserve in Central Florida © Doug Morrison

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. 

Visitors who get up close and watch carefully will see one of the highest concentrations of threatened and endangered plants and animals in the country. Some exist nowhere else on Earth. Will you help us protect them?

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.

You might catch a glimpse of some of these rare species; enjoy seasonal wildflowers and blooming grasses; or anticipate the return of the swallow-tailed kite.

Contact Us

For more information about visiting or volunteering, contact the preserve office at (863) 635-7506. 

 
Why the Conservancy 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 itself is a high-quality, seepage blackwater stream. 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

The Conservancy 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 and hydrological monitoring, the Conservancy 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.

Innovative Projects
  • Jay Watch is a volunteer citizen-science program that monitors the threatened Florida scrub jay. Florida’s only endemic bird species, this charismatic bird is considered an “indicator species” of scrub habitat integrity. Scrub jay population and habitat information, collected from more than 61 sites in 16 counties, allows land managers to implement successful techniques that contribute to the long-term survival of Florida scrub jays and healthy scrub habitat. 
  • Central Florida Ecosystem Restoration Team is a model of effective fire management in Florida and around the world. From a base at Tiger Creek Preserve, Conservancy fire professionals lead a prescribed fire team that performs controlled burns and provides critical resources, information and manpower along the Ridge. This maintains Nature’s balance by returning the historic fire pattern to dangerously overgrown habitats that may fuel lightning-lit wildfires.
  • Controlling of invasive, non-native species such as Old World climbing fern (Lygodium microphyllum) is imperative because these plants can choke native habitats and alter the behavior of both prescribed and wild fires. We spearhead Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) in most counties throughout Central Florida, bringing together private and public partners to help prevent, control and remove invasive species.
  • Leading productive partnerships: From Tiger Creek Preserve, the Conservancy 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 the Conservancy to collaborate with partners on a variety of mutual concerns along the Ridge.
  • Conservation Planning: We are developing tools to help local planners reduce incompatible land use practices adjacent to conservation areas and protect connectivity and water resources. With partners at the University of Florida and Archbold Biological Station, the Conservancy works to connect and buffer conservation areas, creating functional landscapes rather than a collection of fragmented sites.
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 bald eagle, swallow-tailed kite or red-tailed hawk flying overhead. The preserve is also home to the sand skink, gopher tortoise, Florida mouse, indigo snake and gopher frog.

Things to Do

6 hiking trails are open to the public (see trail guide with maps): 

  • 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. 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.

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.