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Walking Club: Exploring Circle B Bar Reserve

Walking Club: Exploring Circle B Bar Reserve
Posted at 5:21 AM, Apr 16, 2021

Many of us are looking for ways to remain active while also staying a safe distance away from others. That's why Sarah Phinney started a ‘Walking Club’ to highlight some hidden, and some not so hidden, trails and parks across Tampa Bay.

Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland is one of the popular spots in the Tampa Bay area to see wildlife, in fact an estimated five to six thousand people visit every single week. If you haven’t been yet, you’re missing out! Here’s what you need to know before you go.

Where is it?

Circle B Bar Reserve can be found just a few minutes south of the Polk Parkway, east of US 98. The address is:

4399 Winter Lake Rd.
Lakeland, FL 33803

First-timers will want to park near the Polk Nature Discovery Center. Restrooms can be found inside when it’s open. Otherwise, portable restrooms are available near the parking lot.

Pets are not allowed at Circle B.

What’s the history?

Circle B Bar Reserve is a former cattle ranch. The name Circle B is a nod to the Bellotto family, who once owned the land.

Polk County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District acquired it in December 2000 in an effort to protect and restore the area. It opened to the public in 2006.

“A large portion of the water that leaves south Lakeland comes through Circle B Bar Reserve, whether it’s off of Reynolds Road or from Banana Lake. The water comes in and is treated through that area and then exits out into Lake Hancock,” says Tabitha Biehl, Polk County Land & Water Natural Areas Manager.

What can I find there?

For first-timers, Biehl recommends swinging by the welcome desk at Polk’s Nature Discovery Center to speak with a volunteer.

Tell them what you’re looking for and they’ll point you in the right direction.

“They’re very knowledgeable, they’ll get you a trail map, that way you’ll know where to go on the site and they’ll tell you what’s been seen most recently,” she said.

If the center isn’t open, ask a regular!

“Really getting that recent up-to-date information is the best way to plan your trip once you get on-site,” said Biehl.

Current trail closures

Portions of some trails closed in mid-March. Polk County officials say this is for maintenance, visitor safety and to allow wildlife space for their seasonal movement.

“We are hitting a time of year when some of the alligators move around, start to flex their muscles a little bit, and when that happens, we also try to take advantage of those trail closures, do the maintenance at the same time,” Biehl said.

It’s a good idea to either stop in at the center when you get to Circle B, or call the center at (863) 668-4673), ahead of your visit to get the latest information.

Biehl says it’s unclear when the trails will fully reopen. It’s up to the alligators!

What about that viral alligator video?

You may remember that viral video of the large gator crossing the trail back in 2017.

While the size of the gator appears to be shocking, Biel says it’s just the angle.

“It was definitely the perspective of that shot that made him seem so much more jurassic park-like,” she said.

Biehl says they don’t track individual alligators on the site, so there’s no saying if that particular gator is still there. She says some can reach 12 to 12.5 feet in length. 13 feet is relatively rare.

By the way, a gator crossing a trail at Circle B isn’t unusual whatsoever. You might see it during your visit!

“If you see an alligator out on the trail, which is very common at this site, you turn around and go the other way,” said Biehl. “We don’t come out and move alligators.”

When should I visit?

Circle B is open from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. during daylight saving time. It is open from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. during standard time.

The Nature Discovery Center is open from Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s also open on Sunday from noon until 4 p.m.

Biehl says the busiest time at Circle B is December through March.

Join Walking Club!

Post photos of your adventures, ask questions and learn about upcoming #WalkingClub stories in Sarah’s Walking Club group on Facebook!

You can also keep up with Sarah on Instagram and Twitter