The Ridge Scenic Byway is home to some of my favorite Florida attractions including Bok Tower Gardens, Chalet Suzanne and Spook Hill in Lake Wales. It also boasts unique natural features, such as the highest point on the peninsula, 298 feet above ground.
If you're interested in conservation and eco-tourism, the Ridge Scenic Byway is a fascinating drive. The ridge is actually an ancient beach and sand dune system formed when Florida was submerged in the oceans, roughly one to three million years ago. Today, the sandy soil supports one of the highest concentrations of threatened and endangered species in the United States.
This scrub habitat supports many wildlife species that are found nowhere else in the world. According to the Archbold Biological Station, an independent, non-profit research facility devoted to long-term ecological research and conservation, the Lake Wales Ridge had 19 plants, 3 reptiles and one bird on the federally-protected species list. Many more are on Florida's protected list.
Birders are likely to see the prized Florida scrub-jay. Other rare species include the eastern indigo snake, which lives alongside plants such as the Florida ziziphus and the scrub blazing star.
When I was young, my dad often drove us through Lake Wales to enjoy the rolling hills, manicured rows of citrus trees and cooler climate with little humidity. Though just a few hours away, it was a world apart from our home in South Florida.
The region still maintains much of its natural beauty. With continued conservation, we can protect and keep the many endangered species in the Lake Wakes Ridge alive.