Find out more about FWC’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative at: http://myfwc.com/conservation/special-initiatives/fwli/
Kevin Kemp, Wildlife Legacy Biologist
Freshwater Goal (Peninsula)
3900 Drane Field Road
Lakeland, FL 33811-1207
This past September, a major restoration effort in the headwaters of the Peace River, one of the largest rivers in southwest Florida, was completed. The Peace River is a critical component of the area’s ecological landscape and is therefore identified as a priority freshwater basin in the State Wildlife Action Plan. Staff from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission teamed up with Polk County Parks and Natural Resources Division, Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to rehydrate the western portion of Lake Gwyn, which had been drained by the Wahneta Farms Canal.
The purpose of this project was twofold. First, the project converted 56 acres of drained lake bottom into herbaceous marsh, thereby creating much needed fish and wildlife habitat in the area. Instead of a straight, box-cut channel that conveyed water quickly, the shallow marsh with deep pools provides an excellent space for wading birds to forage. Many species of reptiles can be seen basking on the banks of the wetland on warm days, and biologists have also seen otters frequenting the new wetland.
Aerial view of Lake Gwyn while under construction, Photo courtesy of Polk County Parks and Natural Resources Division.
Secondly, the project was designed to improve the water quality of the Wahneta Farms Canal before the water enters the Peace River and ultimately the Charlotte Harbor estuary. In an area verified as impaired for fecal coliforms, the natural filtration created by the wetland will have beneficial impacts for miles downstream. The wetland was designed to function during periods of both high and low water flow, with safety features built in so that no flooding of upstream neighbors can occur. During high flow events, the water will sheet-flow across the wetland, while during low flows, the water will flow through a series of pools (indicated by the red and yellow arrows in the aerial picture above), continuing to provide wildlife habitat and water quality benefits.
Aerial view of Lake Gwyn after the project was completed, Photo courtesy of Polk County Parks and Natural Resources Division.
Polk County maintains a 99-year lease on the project site from the Division of State Lands, and the completed project is now open to the public, complete with a pier that juts into the deep pool (indicated above by the yellow arrow) at the south end of the site. There is even a walking path a little over a mile in length that encircles the project. We hope you visit this beautifully restored site soon!