I’ve been to Florida many times and always considered it to be incredibly flat. It was one of the flattest of all states with a mean elevation of only 100 feet (30 metres) — edged out only by much smaller Delaware — and definitely represented the smallest elevation span within its borders, extending from sea level to only 345 ft (105 m). Nonetheless it seemed to display some pride in what little elevation it had, puffing it up like it was much more spectacular that the actual situation deserved.
Britton Hill @ Lakewood Park by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)
I’ll begin with that most diminutive state highpoint, Britton Hill (map). I know many Twelve Mile Circle readers have experienced Britton Hill in person although I’ve not been fortunate enough to have that opportunity yet. It was my kind of highpoint though, one that any "climber" could conquer easily by automobile, and accessible from an adjacent parking lot collocated in Lakewood Park. Some states with considerably more remarkable highpoint summits did less to mark their magic spots so congratulations to Florida for making an effort to recognize it puny promontory. The mountaineering website Summit Post did its best to keep a straight face and craft a justification to stop by for a visit.
Some may ask why anyone would want to travel to this remote area and walk in the relatively flat Florida panhandle forest. Britton Hill certainly does not provide the best Florida has to offer, but highpointing takes you places you would never think of going – like a unique tour of America that few get to experience.
In truth, nobody would consider this as a particularly remarkable place, much less stop to visit, if it wasn’t a state highpoint. Nonetheless someday I’ll strap on my crampons, prepare my ropes and tame the mighty summit of Britton Hill. Yes, I’m fairly certain that even I could accomplish that.
Britton Hill didn’t actually start my train of thought on this subject. Rather, it was the ridiculously named Highlands County, Florida. I’d been to the Highlands of Scotland a couple of times and it certainly bore little resemblance to anything in Florida. I felt it was more than a bit presumptuous to attach Highlands to a state know for its flatness, and yet there it appeared. Highlands became a county in 1921 and several sources stated emphatically that it was due to the surrounding terrain. Yet its highest elevation never exceeded 210 ft. (64 m.) in several spots so how much variation could there be?
A fascinating facility known as the the Archbold Biological Station held the several highpoints within its 5,200 acre (21 km2) natural preserve (map) so it was easily accessible to county highpointers. The research institute was created in 1941 by Richard Archbold after his original research in New Guinea had to be curtailed at the outbreak of the second world war. His Florida station was positioned at the headwaters of the Everglades in a distinctive habitat known as the Florida Scrub. They’ve done some great fieldwork there over the years.
What’s up with Hillsborough County?
Tampa Night by Matthew Paulson on Flickr (cc)
Hillsborough County — which includes the city of Tampa — contained an inordinate amount of formally designated Highlands. In fact, fully half of Florida’s populated Highlands listed in the Geographic Names Information System fell within the confines of Hillsborough. I wondered if it might actually be hilly. It was named HILLSborough, after all. It turned out to have nothing to do with the terrain, having been named for the Earl of Hillsborough "who served as British Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1768 to 1772." I found it odd that this happened in 1834, a long time after American independence, adding more to the mystery.
Curiously, not only did Hillsborough lack any meaningful hills, it had an indeterminate highpoint even though the climbing site Peakbagger attempted to affix one (map) at an elevation of approximately 160 ft. (49 m.). The County Highpointers Association basically threw its hands into the air declaring, "This is a mess. The entire area has been strip-mined for phosphates."
Given that, why did Hillsborough have Auburn Highlands, Claonia Highlands, Hiawatha Highlands, Hickory Highlands, Highlands Oaks, Hillsborough Highlands, Mill Highlands, River Highlands, Sidney Highlands, Stephen Foster Highlands, Temple Highlands, Terrace Highlands, Valrico Highlands, West Highlands, and Wilma Highlands? I can only guess that local developers simply had a penchant for using the term independent of its actual meaning. Maybe it simply sounded good.