The weather here in the Lake Wales area is warm -- highs in the 80F's -- but very windy, which is influencing our choices of outdoor activities. Because today was forecast to be the most windy of upcoming days, we decided that a hike would be the most enjoyable activity. Our research suggested we would enjoy the Buster Island Trail in Lake Kissimmee State Park, nearby.
Lake Kissimmee State Park has 12 distinct natural communities that hold over 30 listed species of animals and plants, including delicate mosses, butterfly orchids, sawgrass, cutthroat grass, fetterbush and gallberry with expansive, colorful fields of lotus and pickerelweed. The pine and scrubby flatwoods found in the park are host to longleaf pines, scrub oaks, Florida scrub jays, Sherman fox squirrels, gopher tortoises, white-tailed deer, turkeys, bobcats and the gray fox. The park hosts over 200 species of birds, including bald eagles, snail kites, sandhill cranes and crested caracara.
Europeans arrived in Florida in the 1500s but their presence was not felt until the 1800s with the Third Seminole War, after which the area was widely used for timber and turpentine operations. During the Civil War, the area was used for raising cattle that were shipped to the Confederate Army or traded with Cuba for supplies. After the war, cattle became the main industry and this continues today.
In 1969, Florida purchased 5,030 acres of land from the William Zipperer estate for the park, which was opened to the public in August 1977.
The trail circles Buster Island, which is indeed an island. It is surrounded by three lakes – Lake Kissimmee, Lake Rosalie, and Tiger Lake – and the waterways that connect them.
The trail is just under 7 miles long, winding through open prairie and shady woodland. We started our hike with great anticipation: