A Short History of the Lake Region Audubon Society of Polk County, Florida
The precursor to the LRAS was an organization of birdwatchers and nature buffs that existed in Polk County from the early 1950s until their formal admission into Audubon of Florida Inc. in 1959. It’s unknown if the old Polk Audubon Society was affiliated with any other organization. Some of the more active early members were John Edscorn and family, George Horel, Pat and Harlen Herbert, and Margret Gilbert of Lakeland; Norton Agee, George Heinsman, and Olive Hendrickson of Winter Haven, and botanist Judge Jessie Willson of Bartow. Hendrickson at one time was treasurer of Florida Audubon Inc.
Agee and Heinsman established a cooperative agreement with area ranchers for the protection of Bald Eagles which spanned over 100,000 acres. During this effort in 1960, they reported the last documented sighting in the US of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker and nest tree located on a ranch somewhere west of the Highlands Hammock State Park in Highlands County.
John Edscorn edited the Florida section for American Birds for many years and was a leading authority on about every aspect of Polk County’s natural history. John was the first in the County to record over 600 bird species in the United States. Before the age of hot lines and computer listservers, this was a remarkable feat.
The Lake Wales group that would become Ridge Audubon was formed by Ken Morrison, a retired editor of the Audubon magazine from New York City and his wife Helen in 1964. They started recruiting members on the Ridge in 1957 among which were Bob and Ruth Haines, photographer Bill Dwyer, and noted ornithologist Larry Walkinshaw.
Two years later, in 1959, the Lake Region Audubon Society was chartered by Florida Audubon Inc. The two groups were both centered in their own Nature Centers and have coexisted peacefully ever since. With such a long history, it’s time to honor the past presidents of the society with their names on a plaque. It will take some work to remember the names of those involved because memories are already fading.