The prairies of Central Florida are fascinating places, rich with wildlife. Here, you’ll see flocks of wild turkeys and sandhill cranes, and that unusual looking falcon, the caracara. Protecting more than 4,000 acres of this habitat and purchased in 1997 as part of the Polk County Environmental Lands Program, SUMICA opened just a few years ago after a nice trailhead was built along SR 60 east of Hesperides.
Why the name in capital letters? It stands for Societe Universelle Mining Industrie, Commerce et Agriculture, a French that had timber rights to the land. The town of SUMICA, established in 1917, thrived on lumbering and turpentine. After the pines were harvested, the town vanished in 1927, with remnants forming a ghost town today. The hiking trail follows an old railroad bed raised above the surrounding wet prairies. I was fortunate to meet up with Marian Ryan, from Polk County Friends of the Parks, to take a hike on this trail. It was not yet open when I worked on my last hiking book that covered this area, Hikers Guide to the Sunshine State, and it encompasses up to 6.2 miles of trails, some of which loop out to Lake Walk-in-Water.
Location: Indian Lakes Estates
Length: Up to 6.2 miles
Lat-Long: 27.856592, -81.375369
Type: Round-trip or loop
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: moderate to difficult
Bug factor: moderate to annoying
Maps should be available at the trailhead, but you can also print one from the Environmental Lands website.
Drive east along SR 60 from Lake Wales past the turnoffs for Lake Kissimmee State Park and Lake Walk-in-Water Road. The SUMICA trailhead is 5 miles ahead on your right.
Starting at the trailhead kiosk, walk down the entrance trail through a lush saw palmetto prairie to the T intersection where trails diverge. The multi-use trail system (6.2 mile round trip with a loop at the end that connects to the hiking trail) heads towards the right to Lake Walk-in-Water. Hikers should turn left and follow the old railroad bed east.
There are benches for resting, and occasional stands of moss-draped live oaks providing shade, but it is mostly an open hike, with prairie, pine flatwoods, and cypress domes off to your right and prairie and marshes to your left. Watch for small patches of open water where wading birds and alligators may make an appearance. Cool breezes glance off the water.
After 1.1 miles, you reach a sign pointing to an unexpected find: a boardwalk with a covered shelter at the end. It’s an observation platform overlooking a broad prairie edged with sawgrass marsh, and a large lake that recedes from view in times of drought. It sits right at the end of the cypress strand you paralleled along your walk here. Bring your binoculars, as it’s a fine place for birding—the sounds of warblers fill the air, and herons pick through the prairie shallows.
The observation shelter is a highlight of this natural area, so an easy walk is to turn around here for a 2.2-mile round-trip. But the hiking trail does continue onward another 1.5 miles, where it makes a loop through a seasonally damp area near Lake Walk-in-Water and connects with the multiuse trail. You can hike out to the loop for a round-trip of 5.25 miles back to the parking area. It appears from the map that you can connect the two trails for a big loop of 5.75 miles, but I didn’t try it myself … if you do, let me know if it works!