Florida Trail Association
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The Florida Trail

April 2020 E-blaze

April 2020
The FTA’s Ongoing COVID-19 Precautions
In response to Governor Ron DeSantis’s recent Executive Order, we continue to urge you to please stay off the Florida Trail during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many sections and facilities along the trail remain closed. Traveling out of town to access the FT also puts the health and safety of our rural communities at risk. We need to take all precautions to limit the spread and severity of COVID-19. Unless the FT is close to you and that corresponding section is open and uncrowded, we encourage you to take only limited, local nature walks practicing social distancing of at least 6 feet and following CDC safety guidelines.
Please note, many land management agencies along the Florida Trail still remain closed. We are working hard to keep our Trail Closures & Notices page up to date with all closures and official notices, but note that this resource is not updated outside of regular business hours. Please refer to official land manager and agency websites for the most up to date information before heading out to the trail for a local day hike.
After careful consideration, the FTA board has made the decision to further the postponement of all in-person events, including but not limited to activity hikes, trail maintenance, chapter meetings, and other meetings, until at least May 15th. During this time, trail work done by an individual would not fall under the US Forest Service sponsored volunteer agreement, and therefore would not be covered by US Forest Service liability insurance. We will reevaluate the circumstances and update our community if this recommendation will be extended beyond May 15th.
As the state begins to reopen, we will work with our partners to develop safety protocols which will allow for FTA in-person activities to resume. Our FTA staff is working diligently to develop sanititation guidelines and procedures for all FTA-related events, which will be shared publically as soon as they are available.
In accordance with the Alachua County Stay-at-Home order which currently remains in effect, the FTA office in Gainesville is still closed to the public until further notice.You are welcome to continue to place orders from the FTA store or purchase FTA memberships, but there will be a delay in processing orders and memberships at this time. Thank you in advance for your patience.
The Florida Trail will still be available once this passes; but there is far more we could be losing if we do not take this pandemic seriously. Our collective responsibility is to protect the health of our communities and to reduce the strain on our healthcare system. Thank you for your passion and commitment to the Florida Trail. Together, we’ll do all we can to reduce the spread and severity of COVID-19. We’re wishing you good health and safety during this challenging time.
Virtual Chapter Meetings
Connecting our FTA community by our best means
Central/South Florida Trail Program Manager, Jenna Taylor, writes:
Those who know the trail, know that it requires adaptation and flexibility. During the COVID-19 outbreak, this remains true. Though chapters have been asked to cease meeting in person, one chapter was not willing to let that stop them from conducting business. In April, the Alligator Amblers chapter hosted their first virtual meeting. The members gathered via Zoom from the safety of their homes. Led by Carl Kepford, the chapter discussed the progress made this Spring in Big Cypress and the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Most importantly, the chapter focused on visiting with each other. The chapter felt the meeting was a success and will be open to trying remote meetings in the future should the closures continue. They also felt like it might be a way to reach their seasonal chapter members over the summer so they can hit the trail in the fall. As a guest in the meeting, I felt that it was a great chance to experience some normalcy during this time and to maintain connection to the mission and most importantly the folks who make up the FTA.
If your chapter is interested in hosting virtual chapter meetings via Zoom and would like a tutorial on how to use the program, our Regional Trail Managers are available and happy to assist you. Chapter leaderships, be sure to contact the respective Trail Manager of your region to get started.
Florida Trail Virtual Puzzles
Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability
to keep a good attitude while waiting.
In this period in which we are all spending more time at home, we want to keep you connected to the Florida Trail.
✨Each Friday of this month, we’ve been sharing five new Florida Trail virtual puzzles for you to solve and enjoy from home. Take a journey through the FT landscape, wherever you may be. 🌴
Visit our new FTA Puzzle Page to play!
Online Crossword Puzzle
Test Your Knowledge of Ecological Terms & Florida Nature!
Here’s another fun activity we’ve created for you to enjoy at home. Click on the crossword or link button below to see if your explorations on the Florida Trail have made you a keener Florida Naturalist!
Develop Your Naturalist Knowledge
Wish you knew more about about Florida’s diverse ecosystems?
Check out the Florida Master Naturalist Program!
The Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP) is currently offering online courses. Many FTA volunteers and members have completed the FL Master Naturalist Program. Alligator Amblers chapter member, Becky Troop, has completed the program and highly recommends it to fellow FTA members. “It’s a very comprehensive experience. The courses are a mixture of classroom learning, hands-on exercises and field trips. Enough diversity in the teaching methods to engage most people.” You can lean more about the FMNP program and check out their current courses here.
Building More Than Trails
Introducing the new FTA & ATC Latinx Partnership Coordinator,
Luz Lituma
We are thrilled to introduce Luz Lituma, our new Latinx Partnership Coordinator for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Florida Trail Association. The FTA and the ATC both aspire to cultivate greater strength and resilience within and beyond our organizations, as well as manage and protect while providing access to the Appalachian Trail and Florida Trail for all. To further our joint efforts, Luz will be assisting us in advancing inclusive opportunities on the AT and the FT for Latinx communities. Here are some words from Luz 👋:
“As a kid, I never got exposed to the outdoors. Being a first-generation immigrant to the US, living in New York City made it hard for my parents to make time for leisure activities. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I made it a priority of mine to get outdoors. It wasn’t until almost 3 years ago that I made it my priority to expose and introduce my community to amazing public lands around us.
I co-founded Latinxhikers, which is a community created to bring more diversity to the trails. It has since created amazing opportunities! One of them is getting a job with the ATC and FTA to expand my work on not only diversifying the trails, but providing affinity groups with stewardship opportunities on these trails.
How many of y’all have volunteered for the trail and felt so empowered after it? It provides a sense of being part of a community and giving back. That’s why I’m excited about the opportunities that will arise after everything settles from the COVID-19 outbreak. I have high hopes we’ll be able to get back out there in a couple of months!
Please keep a lookout, the FTA and the ATC will be featuring women who have volunteered for the FT and/or AT as a part of the #WildEastWomen initiative!
Wild East Women Initiative
This spring, Luz will be interviewing an amazing assortment of new and longterm female Florida Trail stewards as a part of the Wild East Women initiative. These incredible women will be featured on our FTA Facebook and Florida Trail Instagram throughout the coming months. Here are the two dedicated FTA gals we’ve featured so far:
Angie Vasquez is an all-around badass doing all types of outdoor recreation jobs from guiding tours in Alaska during the summer to teaching “How to Lead a Hike” courses at REI throughout the year. She is passionate about creating opportunities for her fellow lady hikers to give back to their trails. She first started helping recruit women for the FTA’s work parties when she met Van, the Community Outreach Manager for the FTA. They became acquainted and Angie became eager to jump on this opportunity so she can expose her community to the Florida Trail in a new and meaningful way.
Angie is the founder of @GirlswhohikeFL in which she serves as a community outreach leader and gathers women to hike with her. Through Girls Who Hike FL, she engages new volunteers to join the FTA’s efforts in maintaining the Florida Trail. She loves doing the volunteer work. “We walk on these trails every day and we never take into account how the corridor is cleared just enough for hikers to get through the trail. I never thought about the maintenance part of it. You see the trail totally different once you volunteer.”
Angie has done trail work a handful of times, leading her Girls Who Hike FL crew wherever they are needed on the FT. Her very first maintenance weekend on the Florida Trail was in the Green Swamp West section near Dade City a couple of years ago. She encourages those who have yet to volunteer and are hesitant. “Just do it! Sometimes you gotta get out of your comfort zone. If you don’t try it how will you know if you like it?”
FTA Heartland Chapter member. Rhonda Wise, is a Florida transplant who has been living on this land for over 45 years. She grew up coming to Florida from Kansas to camp and hunt with her parents. This was their family’s getaway time, sparking her love for the outdoors.
Once Rhonda’s children left the nest, she and her husband took it upon themselves to go on great adventures together. They have backpacked, kayaked, camped, all over the world. Slowly but surely scratching items off their bucket list.
In 2002, Rhonda joined the Florida Trail Association. She started off by doing simple trail maintenance using hand tools like lopping back brush to clear the trail. The first FT sections she joined in maintaining were the Green Swamp West and East tracts in Pasco and Polk Counties with the Suncoast and Heartland chapters. With time, she developed an interest in operating mechanized equipment. She is now chainsaw certified, enjoys running the brushcutter, and eagerly volunteers where help is needed on the trail.
Though Rhonda enjoys volunteering on the Florida Trail, she admits it can be tough some days. “The Everglades Big Cypress tract, has been the most challenging of all my trail work experience. A swamp buggy picks up the crew at the Oasis Visitor Center and for the next 5 to 7 days, we primitive camp in the swamp at a point where the buggy leaves the crew, supplies, and equipment. We hike with our equipment and maintain a section, caching our tools in the brush overnight and moving further along the trail each day. Each day’s hike becomes longer and longer. On the last day, we’ll hike to where we stashed our equipment, finish the last mile, and hike about 5 miles back to camp, carrying all of our tools, including the power equipment. Note: there are no toilets, no lights, no cell phone service, no water, nothing except what we haul in. Cooking and cleanup is a shared chore by all crew members. At the end of the week, the rangers come and take us back to the Visitor’s Center.”
Rhonda’s parting words are “For those who are thinking of possibly doing trail maintenance but are not sure about it, the motto of the trail crew is “the trails don’t maintain themselves.” It is hard work. But the best parts of trail work are the people you meet and the time to enjoy the outdoors, camp, eat, and be moving all day.”