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No Hunting At Circle B This Year

By Del Milligan
The Ledger

LAKELAND -- The Circle B Bar Reserve at Lake Hancock will be closed to duck hunters for the 2005-06 season because of a nine-month project to restore the marsh system to its original state.

"Some of the canals will be filled in so it will be more of a natural sheet flow," said Gaye Sharpe, Environmental Lands Program coordinator for Polk County.

"We want to have the wetlands back in place," added Sharpe, whose office oversees hunting at the preserve.

Dirt-moving work will begin this month to refill drainage ditches on both sides of Banana Creek in the middle of the 450-acre marsh.

"It will be more of a marsh system. It will hold water for longer periods," said Sharpe. "We anticipate levels to be 2 or 3 feet and fluctuate."

Duck hunters have taken green- and blue-winged teal, wood ducks and Florida mallards at the marsh since the county-owned property opened two years ago.

The shallow marsh has also attracted birdwatchers and hikers.

Hunting will resume for the 2006-07 season, Sharpe said.

When the mitigation project is completed in April, the water level will be controlled only by the level of nearby Lake Hancock.

Sharpe said hunters she's spoken with are in favor of the project because deep drainage ditches -- dug by cattle ranchers in the 1940s to drain the marsh and provide more grazing land -- have posed an obstacle for hunters wading throughout the marsh, where boats aren't allowed.

Steve Hendrix, who hunts regularly at the reserve, will have to find another place to hunt this season.

"I'm a little disappointed. We worked really hard to get access to it," said Hendrix, who works at Bartow Ford. "I hate to lose it as a hunting opportunity, especially after the revisions we made after the first year. It was better for hunters, the county regulated it a lot better, and I had nothing but praise for it."

David Cardman of Lakeland, like Hendrix, a member of the local Ducks Unlimited chapter, said he "likes the idea" of restoration.

Native plants and trees will also be replanted during the project, which will be done with heavy equipment.

Returning the marsh to its natural state, more like it may have looked 100 years ago, is also expected to benefit all wildlife and wading birds.

The Florida Department of Transportation is funding the project, which is directed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District in cooperation with Polk County.

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