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Friedlander Ranch May Become Part of Envisioned Plan's "Big Green Network"

The realization of a "Big Green Network" of environmental lands that will forever form limits to the potential urbanization of the Lake Wales area drew a step closer this week.

Lifelong Lake Wales resident and member of a pioneer family, Edwin Friedlander has offered his 749-acre ranch property for acquisition through the Polk Forever program, approved by voters in 2022.

The property was assessed by a "technical advisory team" before being approved by the Conservation Lands Selection Advisory Committee (CLASAC).

The Friedlander parcel, located southeast of Lake Wales and north of Babson Park, lies entirely within the Utility Service Area established by the City of Lake Wales through interlocal agreement with Polk County. It defines the area which could potentially be annexed and served by city utilities.

The tract ranked second among six properties nominated by their owners for consideration. The property "is in really good shape," according to Gaye Sharpe, who leads the county's program. "It has very few invasives, and already provides a lot of good habitat for wildlife movement."

According to Sharpe the land may be subject to a sale of development rights only or become county property and provide recreational opportunities for area residents, as well as wildlife habitat. Protection would allow it to serve as an aquifer-recharge area helping to provide water for generations to come.

"We're at the very beginning of the process" to acquire the property, she said, and no determination as to how to protect it has been made. "It may require that we appraise it both ways" for fee-simple of development rights purchase, she said. "That really is their {the Friedlander's} decision," she added.

The vision of a Big Green Network is one of the major elements of the Lake Wales Envisioned project to assure that Lake Wales remains a livable area in the face of enormous development pressure. It calls for the creation of two major swathes of protected wildlife habitat east and west of the city.

Victor Dover of Dover, Kohl & Partners, who led the multi-firm Envisioned plan development, called the nomination "a big step forward." He also cautioned that "there are more votes ahead" before any deal can be finalized.

The CLASAC conservation land program renews a previous program approved by voters in 1994, which successfully protected numerous parcels across the county in partnership with multiple state and federal agencies. They include the Crooked Lake Prairie and Sumica tracts near Lake Wales, both popular for outdoor recreation.

Local resident Blair Updike often paints images of Florida's natural scenes and was deeply involved in the successful effort to renew the CLASAC program in 2022. She was excited to learn of the property's nomination and saluted the Friedlander family for bringing it forward.

"It's a beautiful property," Updike said, adding that "It's great to see {the new program} going into action so quickly" and "the property owners stepping forward."

The Friedlander tract, formerly used as a cattle pasture, lies adjacent to the Nature Conservancy's Tiger Creek Preserve, which is a riverine habitat along the creek and a large swath of restored pine flatwoods. That native land form is maintained by regular controlled burns of undergrowth. If the property is purchased outright it could be a candidate for restoration to a similar use, but Sharpe cautioned that restoration would be a long-term process as grants and funding become available.

The Envisioned effort is an effort to establish higher development and limits on growth to assure that natural areas, water resources, and wildlife corridors remain intact as the city inevitably grows. The development of the plan involved months of intense public input through a series of workshops, charrettes, meetings, and open studio efforts, as well as webinars and presentations from a team of experts in varying professions.

The results include a map depicting two broad greenways that could serve as wildlife corridors to the east and west of the city. Connecting to existing environmental lands, as the Friedlander tract does, along with the close-in location to the city makes the property of major significance in that effort. The Envisioned plan also depicts a network of trails for walkers and bicyclists that would link to environmental lands and connect to regional trails.


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