Highlands County is breathtakingly beautiful, blessed with a mild climate and filled with wide open spaces under brilliant blue skies and a golden yellow sun. Fleets of cumulus clouds sail over fields and groves of green and brown reflect off the many lakes’ surfaces. This is a place where people were meant to be outside.
As a result of inter-agency cooperation and community awareness, Highlands County has a great deal to offer the naturalist and athlete.
Recognized as an essential asset, the county’s more than 100 lakes many of which are a part of greater Sebring, are monitored and supported by the Highlands County Lakes Association, a group with public and private support – not an unusual arrangement for the county and its residents.
The full-time lakes manager is a county official, advocates for ecological awareness, maintains testing programs and volunteer clean-ups of the surrounding lakes.
The lakes provide endless opportunities to canoe, swim and ski.
In particular, birdwatching is rewarding with the sky and shores crowded, especially during seasonal migrations. Florida scrub jays, ospreys, bald eagles, ibis, egrets, cranes – including the sand hill crane – herons, swallow tailed kites, red winged black birds, cardinals and sea gulls are only a sample of what can be seen.
The local Highlands County Audubon Society is an active source of information. The Highlands Hammock State Park maintains an excellent birding list and also home to alligators, deer, otters, armadillos and bears. The park offers a variety of camping options, from recreational vehicle spots to rough and ready tent and backpack areas.
The large and shallow Lake Istokpoga State Park, on U.S. Highway 98 a few minutes outside of Sebring, is listed on the Great Florida Birding Trail, and has an easy access boardwalk reaching out into the lake. The elusive snail kite is a common sight on Lake Istokpoga.
One reason the lake is home to so many different birds is because of the many different species of fish in the water. Widemouth bass, croppie and specks, for example, are so plentiful and big; making Lake Istokpoga a tournament lake.
As you can imagine, fishing is taken seriously in Sebring. There are many bait and tackle shops and knowledgeable guides. Access to water and nature is easy with 19 county parks and 39 county-maintained boat ramps, most with pavilions. There are also boat ramps on Arbuckle Creek and the Kissimmee River.
Greater Sebring also offers organized sports.
The community itself, with its passionate support of youth, high school and college sports, including soccer, volleyball, baseball, softball, basketball and football, supports more than one sports complex and welcomes outside tournament play.
The Highlands County Sports Complex consists of 52 acres of primary activity areas including practice fields. Max Long Complex is home to Sebring’s Dixie Youth baseball. The YMCA has organized sports teams, a swimming pool and exercise programs.
Sebring has formal shuffleboard courts, horseshoe pitches, tennis and racquetball courts as well as the Kegel Bowling Alley.
Sebring would not be the place that it is without its 14 area golf courses. No two of them are alike; each has been designed to enhance the environment around it and most of them are championship-ranked. Wet, dry, sandy and woody conditions create unique challenges for every skill level.
Courses are staffed with professional instructors, offer golf carts and have shops that provide every need – including rental clubs. While advanced tee-times are suggested at most courses, it is rare to be unable to book a desired playtime. Area hotels and resorts offer attractive golf packages year-round.
Celebrating its 7th run in 2012, the Heartland Triathlon has become a major event attracting participants not just from around the state but the country and world, too. The race is made up of three portions – a .25-mile swim, a 14-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run – passes through some of the most beautiful areas of Sebring.
Bicycling and greater Sebring are ideally suited. Interesting back roads provide routes for all skill levels. From 10 to more than 100 miles long, some routes run flat while others twist and turn over hilly terrain. Bicycling is encouraged at Highlands Hammock and the Preserve of Sun ’N Lakes. The local bicycle club, Highlands Peddlers, serve residents and visitors alike. Several organized events bring in thousands of bicyclists several times a year.