From a vision plan for Peace River Park to historical museums and a skydiving club, four cities in southern Polk County — Fort Meade, Bartow, Lake Wales and Frostproof — know how to live and play.

Living and playing is an important part of our daily lives away from work, and Polk County offers numerous amenities to ensure everyone has options. This blog post is the last in a five-part series about quality of life in Polk County.

Fort Meade

Planning for the future of Peace River Park, and recreation in general, encompasses much of Fort Meade’s attention these days, and for good reason: if developed as conceived, Peace River Park will be a crown jewel.

The City Commission recently approved the site plan for the park prepared by The Lunz Group. The plan is broken into three parts, restore, develop and expand, each of which has two phases. Phase 1A includes things like restoring playgrounds and the golf course, while Phase 1B includes restoring the walking trail and water launch area. Phase 2A includes developing biking trails and an RV campsite, while Phase 2B includes building cabins and amenities. Phase 3A includes expanding equestrian, walking and biking trails, and finally, Phase 3B includes expanding lake access and equestrian facilities.

“This is a longer-term project, but one which the city is working to garner funds,” said City Manager Danielle Judd. The city has asked the Polk County Legislative Delegation to assist with the Peace River Park and legislators have said they are committed to moving forward. “We want to make the community look sharp, have that curb appeal. There’s no timetable for construction.”

Judd said the city of about 6,200 residents is also working to improve amenities at the Community Center, Patterson Park and Heritage Park, as well as some local neighborhood parks.

The park fits into the master vision plan that the city is developing.

“Our plan for Fort Meade can be best characterized as ‘preserving our heritage, planning our future,’” Judd said.

Although the city doesn’t have any new housing developments under construction, Judd said there are quite a few parcels in town that are undergoing redevelopment” or having houses built on them for the first time.

“I would characterize those as scattered sites, meaning it is happening in various quadrants and there are some builders that are taking parcels and constructing.”

Bartow

Polk County’s county seat and second-oldest city, Bartow is home to about 19,000 people, a number that will likely grow as Lennar Homes is building new houses in the Liberty Ridge subdivision and Southern Homes is constructing single-family homes in Holland Park Place, among others.

In addition to being home to many government buildings, such as the Polk County Courthouse, the city is well known for housing the Polk County History Center and Historic L.B. Brown House and Museum.

The L.B. Brown House, built-in 1892 by self-taught master carpenter Lawrence Bernard Brown, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Every February, the L.B. Brown Heritage Festival is held on the grounds to celebrate the role African Americans play in Florida history. It celebrated its 20th year in 2020.

The History Center, located in the former Polk County Courthouse, hosts events, educational programs and volunteer opportunities that continue to grow and change. It also houses an exhibit that includes military relics, fossils, a Native American dugout canoe and more.

Frostproof

Life is good in the small town of Frostproof, with a population of about 3,300. That number is expected to grow as Nucor Steel Florida opens its $240 million micro mill near Frostproof, which is projected to create about 250 jobs.

Residents have miles and miles of recreational areas to choose from for outdoor activities. The Great Florida Birding Trail allows birders a chance to search for bald eagles, hawks and more. And the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest gives people an opportunity to walk in seclusion on its 50 miles of hiking trails, located on 26,500 acres. Those lucky enough might spot any of the 19 animals or 24 plants on the endangered or threatened species list.

Like Bartow, Frostproof has a historical museum, the Frostproof Historical Museum, where residents and visitors can learn about the city’s history. Want to know how the city got its name? Stop in and ask.

Lake Wales

Lake Wales’ population stands at about 16,600 and is home to Lake Wales Municipal Airport.

Recognized for aerial sports, including skydiving, parachuting and recreational glider activity, the airport houses the Florida Skydiving Center. In December 2019, it hosted the U.S. National Collegiate Skydiving Championships.

Lake Wales is also home to Bok Tower, a 250-acre collection of gardens with peaceful walking paths and a 205-tall carillon tower from which bells ring daily. Founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Bok, work began on his masterpiece in 1921 and was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929.

Starlight Homes is one company building new single-family homes in Lake Wales.

Growth is happening all across Polk County, for additional information about this topic or how to become a partner with the Central Florida Development Council, please contact Lindsay Zimmerman at lindsay@cfdc.org.