If you’d like to see how phosphate lands can be developed for recreational use after mining, take a drive to Hardee Lakes Park, and bring your fishing pole.

Florida’s phosphate deposits today form the basis of an $85-billion industry that supplies three-fourths of the phosphate used in the United States. Phosphate mining and phosphate use are contentious subjects, with concerns about the long-term effect on the environment.

Hardee Lakes Park was mined during the early 1980s, and post-mining reclamation was completed by the late ‘80s. The 1,150-acre tract containing four lakes was conveyed by IMC Phosphates Co. to Hardee County in 2001 to establish a public recreational park. As part of a mining permit application in Hardee County, Mosaic Fertilizer agreed to provide further improvements to the park.

Today, Hardee Lakes Park is approximately 1,200 acres. Located near Fort Green Springs, the park is bordered by the Polk County line to the north and Ollie Roberts Road to the south. The park has a camping area, horse trails, hiking trails, handicap accessible hiking trails, and bike trails. There are three restrooms located throughout the park, and the restrooms in the camping area have showers. Hardee Lakes also has picnic areas, a picnic pavilion, community building and a playground. A boardwalk winds around the lakes and through the woods, with an observation tower where you can watch wildlife. Hardee Lakes Park contains four lakes in total; Hardee Lake at the south end is 120 acres, Deer Lake is 110, Firefly Lake is 97, and Gator Lake at the north end is 47.

In the cooler months, the park sees a good mix of locals and snowbirds. In summer, families from the four corners area dominate. Stopping by, I talked to Ed and Barbie, retirees from Sebring. They like the location because it’s an easy drive, and come over as often as they can get away. Now their friends and family have discovered the park and often join them. Several fishing poles leaned against their trailer, two bikes stood ready to hit the trails.

Fishing is allowed in all the lakes. The fisheries are managed to support a sport fish population by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; fishing license requirements and regulations apply. No swimming is allowed at the park, and pets must be kept on a leash. Boats are limited to idle speed.

The four lakes are typical reclaimed phosphate lakes; extremely fertile with irregular bottoms and a littoral shelf that supports excellent emergent macrophyte communities (i.e. bulrush, pickerelweed). Fish population sampling from the mid-1990s to present indicate excellent sport fisheries (largemouth bass, bluegill, red ear sunfish, and black crappie). Some of the lakes are stocked with channel catfish and sunshine bass (hybrid striped bass) as an additional angling opportunity.

There are no advisories or restrictions on consuming fish caught in the lakes. Fish may not be filleted, nor their head or tail fins removed, until the angler has left the park unless the angler is camping in the park. Disposal of fish remains within Hardee County Park is prohibited. Days/hours of operation and quotas for freshwater fishing are posted at the park main entrance. Any lake may be closed to public access by Hardee County for management purposes, or in the event that access to the lake could expose the public to danger, by posting notice at the park main entrance.

Definitely a destination for anglers, the park also provides a low-cost camping opportunity or day-trip destination for those wanting to enjoy the outdoors and see for themselves what a former phosphate mine can become.

If you goPark hours are 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m., 8 p.m. in summer, unless you are camping. The daily entrance fee is $5 per vehicle. The entrance gate is locked at night. Camping rates per night are $15 + tax for a site without electric, $20 + tax with electric, with a $3 surcharge for 50 amp service. The weekly rate respectively is $69 + tax, $100 + tax, $15 + tax surcharge, and maximum stay is two weeks.

Directions from Arcadia: North on U.S. Highway 17 approximately 27 miles. Turn left onto State Road 62 W, go 7.5 miles. Turn right onto Brewster Road, go 1.3 miles, turn left onto Ollie Roberts Road. Park entrance is on your right—5502 Ollie Roberts.

Ben Willis, park manager: 863-773-7911, ben.willis@hardeecounty.net

There are a total of 16 public recreational lands built on former phosphate mines in Hardee, Hillsborough, Manatee and Polk counties. Since 1975, Florida law has required that every acre of mined land be reclaimed for productive uses. Agriculture and conservation lands are typical uses. For a brochure on park locations: www.mosaicco.com/documents/FormerlyMineParksBrochur.pdf

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