Riddle me this: where is the beach 90 miles from the shore? Answer: The Lake Wales Ridge, millions of years ago.
"A million years ago, this was completely surrounded by water. This was an island," explains Nicole Ranalli, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Now, many of the plants and animals here are unique, and some are protected by state and federal law.
"These species got trapped here," Ranalli says.
Tiny birds called Scrub Jays fly through the air. Curious-looking lizards called Sand Skinks "swim" through the sandy soil, which is also a holdover from the time when this was an island.
BACK TO NATURE
The state and environmental organizations have bought much of the land around the Carter Creek area of the ridge in Highlands County, but they're still trying to turn the area back to nature.
Years ago, a subdivision was planned here. When it failed, parts of the area became a party spot and dumping ground.
"I've met so many people who say, 'Yea, I used to party out there,' and I say yeah, I found your beer bottles," says retired schoolteacher Marilyn Blair, who has become a one-woman garbage collection service here.
MARILYN THE BEACHCOMBER
Marilyn says she has picked up more than 19,500 bottles in the Carter Creek area, and that's not all.
"I believe these are pieces of a toilet," she says, as she stoops and picks up fragments of porcelain.
"You've found toilets before?" we asked.
"Oh yes," she replies, "Toilets and sinks."
Marilyn has also found pieces of carpet, empty paint cans, and old car tires. She works with a group of volunteers called the Ridge Rangers, but she does much of the picking up alone or accompanied by her dog. She says she loves it.
"When I was teaching, I tried to get my students to understand that they live in a place that's special -- like nowhere else in the world," she says.
Blair helps keep track of the plants and animals here as she cleans up the ridge. She's a beachcomber, 90 miles from the coast.
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