One of Florida’s newer state parks, its 160th, Colt Creek was opened to the public on 20 January 2007. It occupies 5,067 acres in the Green Swamp Wilderness Area and was named after one of the Withlacoochee River’s tributaries that flows through the property, the others being Gator Creek and Little Gator Creek. The park lies just to the south of this river.
The land that was to become Colt Creek State Park was purchased from the Overstreet Family in May 2006 for $55,000,000, a joint purchase of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Polk County Natural Resources Division. Former state senator Paula Dockery, who currently serves on the board of directors for Friends of Colt Creek State Park, was instrumental in securing the purchase. This land is environmentally important because the water that flows from it feeds into 4 of Florida’s major rivers—the Withlacoochee, the Hillsborough, the Peace, and the Ocklawaha.
Historically, the Overstreet Family purchased their ranchland in 1940. In addition to raising beef cattle, they harvested timber and turpentine and mined lime rock. The 3 lakes contained within the park began as quarry pits for this mining operation. Up to 50’ deep, the pits reached down to the Floridan Aquifer, allowing water to flow upward to the land’s surface.
Ecosystems contained within the park include pine flatwoods, cypress domes, bottomland forest, and pastureland where cattle used to graze. Most of the pines are of the long leaf and slash varieties. The fire-tolerant long leaf pines are natives, but the slash pines were planted because they are faster growing. Fifteen miles of multi-use trails will take hikers, bikers, and equestrians through each of these ecosystems. Native wildlife that may be encountered include bald eagles, eastern bluebirds, white-tailed deer, bobcats, river otters, Sherman’s fox squirrels, and gopher tortoises. Up to 150 bird species have been identified. A birding list can be picked up at the entrance station. Ranger-guided hikes and tram rides through the park are available on some weekends.
Other activities available in the park are fishing and boating in the lakes, picnicking, geocaching, and camping. The lakes are stocked with catfish, sunshine and largemouth bass, bream, bluegill, and shell-cracker. Canoes and kayaks can be rented. The lakes are small, so small boats can be hand-launched, but no gas-propelled motors are permitted. Two picnic pavilions with tables, gas grills, and restrooms can be reserved. The pavilion by Mac Lake is a popular venue for weddings. The Friends of Colt Creek State Park plan to place a gazebo by the lake as a backdrop for picture taking. Currently there are 3 primitive camping areas that can be reserved: a group camp for youth groups, 2 walk-in backpacking campsites, and an equestrian campground. A developed, full-service campground for RVs and tents with 28 sites and a bath house is scheduled to be opened sometime in February 2018.
Colt Creek State Park is located 16 miles north of Lakeland at:
16000 State Road 471
Lakeland FL 33809
Phone (863)815-6761 for further information.