Purchased from the Overstreet Family in May 2006, this 5,067-acre park nestled within the Green Swamp Wilderness Area and named after one of the tributaries that flows through the property was opened to the public on January 20, 2007. For more than 60 years this property was managed as a cattle ranch by the Overstreet family. Past activities on the land also included lime rock mining, timber harvesting, citrus production and turpentining.
On May 31, 2006, the 5,067-acre parcel of land now known as Colt Creek State Park, purchased from Charlie Mac and Mark Overstreet, became Florida's 160th state park. For the first six months of ownership, the park was closed to the public while a start-up kit was installed, including an entrance road, parking area, restroom, picnic area, pavilion and information kiosk. The land acquisition was a joint purchase among the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Polk County Natural Resources Division, with DEP's Florida Park Service taking the role as lead land manager. The importance of this purchase revolved around the fact that the land lies within The Green Swamp Wilderness Area, which is an area of critical state concern. The Green Swamp is second only to the Everglades in terms of native wildlife abundance and public recreational opportunities. Shortly after acquisition, this sign was installed to inform future visitors of the new park and to spark their interest in participating in the park's planning process. Indeed it did, as more than 125 people attended the park's initial public workshop.
How do we keep track of all of the park's plant and animal residents? Prior to opening the park and developing the park's management plan, a team of biologists throughout the district spent a week at Colt Creek exploring and recording as many species of plants and animals as they could find. The biologists also recorded the many different biological communities here and began the mapping process. As part of this study, a trap was installed to capture various types of live reptiles and amphibians. Once the species were identified and released, they became part of a permanent record of species listed in the management plan. Maintaining a base list of species helps measure the success of any future resource management practices.
On January 20, 2007, Colt Creek State Park opened to the public for the first time. More than 600 visitors eager to enter the park attended the ceremony to witness this momentous occasion and to listen to the many guest speakers. One of the speakers was local State Senator Paula Dockery. Senator Dockery has always taken a special interest in preserving natural areas and she was instrumental in the acquisition of the Overstreet property. She wanted the land to become a state park to benefit visitors and residents of the state and preserve the natural attributes of the land. Following the ceremonies, a tram tour allowed visitors a closer look at the park. Not surprisingly, some of the first visitors through the gate went straight to one of the park's lakes to try their luck at fishing.
When the park opened in January 2007, the goal was to open at least five miles of trails to the public by July 1. Accomplishing this goal required a lot of work by park staff and volunteers. Numerous volunteer groups from horseback riding, hiking and biking communities volunteered their time over the six months to prepare the trails for public access. As a result of their time and hard work, the park opened the initial five miles of trail on July 1, 2007, as planned. Subsequent volunteer work days allowed the marking of an additional seven miles of trail. Volunteers from throughout the community have also devoted countless hours at the park removing miles of barbed wire and gates and pulling endless stems of invasive exotic plants. The scouting community found it a perfect place for Eagle Scout projects, as well. These projects include the construction of two primitive youth campsites, numbered benches along the trail, hitching posts, covered benches around the lakes and numerous tree and shrub plantings. The creation of Colt Creek State Park would not have been as successful without its dedicated and numerous volunteers.
Since the late 1930s, Charlie Mac Overstreet used this land primarily for raising beef cattle. Through several decades of ownership, the Overstreets created about 1,200 acres of pasture land and at one time grazed upwards of 1,000 head of cattle on the property. Charlie Mac and his son Mark spent their lives in the cattle industry and were also very good stewards of the land they owned. The land is teeming with wildlife, all living in a diverse and important ecosystem. In mid-August 2007, the remaining cattle were removed from the property by the Overstreets, ending their era of cattle ranching at the park. By remembering the importance of cattle ranching to Florida¿s history, culture and economy, the park hopes to one day create a living history display interpreting this industry for the public.