Florida on a Tankful: Archbold Biological Station gives clues to the past

By Scott Fais, Feature Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, March 10, 2017, 6:12 AM EST

While Venus is another planet, Venus, Florida has a welcoming committee in Dr. Hillary Swain.

While she doesn't want you to try calling the famed Florida scrub jay yourself, she is happy to show off the nearly 9,000 acres they call home just off US 27 south of Sebring.

"It's a bird that is special to Florida, and it really depends on these dry sandy habitats," Dr. Swain said.

The scrub jays join more than 700 different plant and vertebrate animal species found along Florida's 116-mile long 'Lake Wales Ridge," in part cared for by the Archbold Biological Station.

"We're like a sandy spine that runs through the middle of Florida,” she explained. “Even though sea level has come and gone, and come and gone, the Lake Wales Ridge has stood high above all of that."

At the bottom of the ridge, awaits a famed research outpost deep in Highlands County.

"This is where you're on your own as an explorer, finding new things,” Dr. Swain shared. "We are a bit like a wonderful university campus with scientists and students."

Developed by Richard Archbold in 1941, the first buildings on the property are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

During The Great Depression era, the grounds cultivated by Archbold became a headquarters for research, as Charlie Green recalls.

"He was a real biologist at heart,” Green shared of Richard Archbold.

Charlie and his sister Mimi visited Richard Archbold as children and found a researcher with a sense of humor and a giant egg on the dinner table.

"He would bring out his dart guns and he would start blowing these darts that came from New Guinea into the couch, or the lampshade or wherever,” Mimi said, who remembers her father fishing with Archbold.

Today, visitors should leave weapons at home, and pack comfortable shoes and water for a hike.  There are two walking loops at Archbold, each under a mile long, that are open to the public.

Yet, Dr. Swain will tell you to pack your patience, because seeing the wildlife will take awhile.

Hawks can scare the scrub jays. Gopher tortoises burrow to avoid the midday heat and snakes, well they are around too.

"Use your own senses to watch a leaf carefully and see move, because it's actually a bug,” Dr. Swain recommends.

Visitor Information:
Like a college campus, there is work and studying being done at the Archbold Biological Station.  There are no restaurants on site or snack bars. Pack food and water before visiting.  Venus is no college town.  Finding a gas station near Archbold will be tough.  Fill up well before leaving the civilization of Sebring or Lake Placid behind.  Find tips on visiting hereGet driving directions here.

Tankful on Television:
Catch Florida travel stories like the one above on Television four days a week across Central Florida. The award-winning Florida on a Tankful with Scott Fais airs on News 13 Thursday-Sunday. See new segments in the Bay Area as well on Bay News 9. Stories air beginning at 6 a.m. on both channels as a Spectrum exclusive.