by MATT COBBLE
Although it’s been more than 50 years since Dr. Yoshiro Hatano first proposed the idea of taking 10,000 steps in a day for health, the notion has truly caught on in the past half-decade thanks to wearable fitness devices, such as FitBits and Apple Watches. While some may see this gamifying of fitness as a gimmick, no health professional is going to argue against getting more active. So, rather than taking your twelfth stroll around your neighborhood this week, here are eight places in Polk you can get your steps in!
Circle B Bar Reserve
Boasting a total of nine different trails, this former cattle ranch turned nature preserve offers numerous distinct ecosystems, inhabited by various species of native wildlife. Also available to visitors are several picnic areas, the Polk Discovery Center (which houses several learning activities for children), and exhibit trails which detail the history of the Cattle and Citrus industries in Florida. (The latter exhibit was a project of Central Florida Health News’ parent organization, Central Florida Media Group)
For many Polk residents, especially Lakelanders, Lake Hollingsworth is synonymous with getting active. Any given day, dozens of runners, walkers, bikers, or roller-bladers will fill the nearly three-mile sidewalk circling the lake. And the data backs up the perceived popularity – app data from Under Armor’s MapMyRun app showed Lake Hollingsworth as the 20th most popular route in the nation, and the only route in Florida in the top 20.
Bok Tower Gardens
Atop the Iron Mountain, the highest point on the Lake Wales Ridge, sits one of Polk County’s oldest and most well known monuments – the Bok Tower Gardens. The history of the gardens stretches back to the late 1920s, when it was commissioned by Edward W. Bok, then editor of Ladies Home Journal, and features the work of both Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and Milton Bennett Medary. Within the gardens, guests can take the Pine Ridge Trail to view the unique sandhill ecosystem, and potentially see several rare Floridian species, such as the gopher tortoise or the Florida mouse.
Although this entry has the steepest price on this list (about $100 per person, plus $20 to park), LEGOLAND has the most variety of scenery to look at. Theme park fans will enjoy the bustle of the attractions around, and the availability of treats to refuel your progress. Or maybe you’d prefer to stroll through the LEGO miniatures of various famous monuments from around the world. And of course, for the historically or botanically inclined, the original Cypress Gardens are still at the core of the park, beautifully maintained.
Hollis Garden/Lake Mirror Promenade
Situated in the middle of Lakeland, walking distance from the numerous shops and restaurants that populate the downtown area, lies the tranquil oasis of Hollis Garden. You can meander through thousands of flowering plants, past the numerous fountains, and along the butterfly trail, all with a picturesque view of Lake Mirror. And the sights don’t stop there. Venturing around the Lake Mirror Promenade will take you past the outdoor amphitheater and loggia, Barnett Family Park, and a multitude of downtown landmarks. Watch the city calendar, as many events will be held along the Promenade, giving you even more sights to see.
Tiger Creek Preserve
Located between Babson Park and Frostproof, the Tiger Creek Preserve sits on land considered Florida’s largest ‘ancient island,’ with rare species that came to flourish on the Lake Wales Ridge when it was a chain of islands, south of the mainland. Nearly the entirety of Tiger Creek’s run is preserved and protected by the Nature Conservancy organization, who recognize the critical role that blackwater streams, such as Tiger Creek, play in Florida’s aquifer system. Tiger Creek Preserve features six different trails, ranging from simple half mile strolls to approximately four mile hikes, different paths for different levels of participants.
Mosaic Peace River Park
Fans of bird watching will want to pay a visit to this reclaimed phosphate mine turned swampland wildlife sanctuary. Here, a wooden boardwalk winds through an ancient cypress floodplain, with much of the half-mile trail shrouded in shade from the dense foliage above, scored by the chorus of a multitude of migrant songbirds.
For those slightly more urbanly inclined, few spaces offer the variety of sights of Lakeland’s Lakeside Village. Opened in 2005 as Polk County’s first outdoor shopping mall, Lakeside Village offers a wide selection of eateries, shops, and service providers in one central location, close enough that you can walk from end to end without over exerting yourself. All with enough atmosphere to draw the people watchers, without being too overwhelming.
So, no matter if you’re looking to shave off the holiday pounds, or you want to see more of the beautiful county we call home, there’s no shortage of new spaces to go take a hike!