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March 2019 E-blaze

March 2019
Progress in Econfina
Hurricane Michael Recovery Efforts
Two- Penny Bridge
Panhandle Trail Program Manager, Adam Fryska, writes:
By now, the FTA community is well aware of the tremendous damage done by Hurricane Michael to the Econfina Section of the Florida Trail. On March 1-3, the Panhandle Chapter hosted the first major Volunteer Work Party to tackle this section. The scale of the challenge facing us quickly became clear; over two days, with 6 sawyers split between Econfina and Chipola, the crew was able to clear almost 1 mile of trail. The progress is slow and painstakingly difficult; the trail is often buried under 6+ feet of accumulated blowdowns and brush, all of it tangled into a complex and dangerous web of hidden tension and pressure. Great care must be taken to guarantee the safety of our sawyers, as a single cut can dislodge and shift the entire mass of fallen trees.
Following this first attempt, the US Forest Service (USFS) was able to secure the help of a professional sawyer team for a ten-day hitch at Econfina. The USFS sawyers were joined by our partners from Framing our Community (FOC), fresh off their most recent project of building a bridge across Alaqua Creek in Eglin. We put the word out for FTA sawyers to join the team, and for the past two weeks this exceptionally skilled crew has been making steady progress at clearing the trail south from the Scott Road trailhead. As of April 1, the trail is clear down to Two-Penny Bridge and onward to just short of Fender Bridge, a distance of almost 5 miles. We’re happy to share that day-hikers and local trail users once again have access to this popular section of trail. Our goal for the rest of this season is to clear the trail down to the road crossing at Walsingham Bridge, another 5 miles further to the south. At this point we’ll have a clear walking route across Econfina for next season’s thru-hikers, a tremendous accomplishment that was almost unthinkable when we first began to chip away at this project.
Many thanks to our dedicated volunteers for their endless energy and enthusiasm when faced with this difficult work, and a special thanks to Eric Lewis and Tom Daniel for their help in scheduling the maintenance events and recruiting FTA volunteers to join the crew. Of course, we also owe a tremendous thank-you to our partners at USFS and FOC for their assistance with this project. Working alongside these experienced professionals has been a fantastic opportunity for our sawyers.
Keep your eyes on the Panhandle Chapter’s Meetup page for additional opportunities to volunteer! FTA and FOC will be scheduling additional work days in the near future.
Panhandle Chapter Trail Coordinator, Eric Lewis
Footprint Magazine
Our latest edition of the Footprint is now available!
This edition includes: photos of the recent Big Cypress Backcountry Work Party, historical to present perspective on statewide trail projects, a Volunteer Spotlight featuring Panhandle Chapter Members, Darryl & Melissa Updegrove, and more! Our team has worked hard in compiling this edition and feel proud to share these FTA narratives with you. Please enjoy!
Ididahike 2019
On Saturday, March 2nd, the North Florida Trail Blazers Chapter hosted the 11th Annual Ididahike at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. This year, the 11-mile hike explored a section of the Florida Trail along the historic and beautiful Suwannee River, with well-organized first aid and take-out stations provided for hikers along the way. Dogwoods, wild Azaleas, fringe flowers and many others were in full bloom that weekend. Some of the gorgeous, iconic features of this landscape included Jerry Branch, Disappearing Creek and Crooked Branch.
In spite of the all-day rainy weather, Ididahike was another great success this year with an attendance of over 220 hikers. Most notably, members from multiple FTA chapters throughout the state also attended. A tremendous thank you to the North Florida Trailblazers Chapter and their enthusiastic, selfless efforts in coordinating this community-cultivating event. From running shuttles, providing aid stations, coordinating registration, hosting the raffle and FTA store, to our FTA President Leslie Wheeler sharing the significance of Ididahike during the shuttle rides… these incredible FTA volunteers whole-heartedly dedicated themselves to making this a safe and valuable event— and that energy was palpable to all who attended.
We’d like to give a special shoutouts to Trail Blazers Chapter Member, Randy Madison, for skillfully and successfully coordinating this year’s Ididahike (he even quickly built fires for cold hikers during the rainstorm); REI Jacksonville for their dedicated and spirited partnership and for providing delicious giveaway snacks; and Girls Who Hike for recruiting a solid crew of inspiring outdoors-women to participate in hiking the Florida Trail.
For more photos of Ididahike 2019, visit the North Florida Trail Blazers Meetup Page.
Photos captured by North Florida Trail Blazers member, Emily Griffith
Building More Than Trails
Community Outreach Manager, Van Tran, writes:
On March 13th, North Florida Trail Program Manager, Jeff Glenn, and I hosted our second annual trail maintenance event with Groundwork Jacksonville‘s Green Team in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness.
Groundwork Jacksonville is a non-profit organization working to restore, connect and revitalize the historic neighborhoods of Jacksonville’s urban core. The organization is committed to environmental restoration of the urban parks, trails and waterways that make up the city’s Emerald Necklace. They engage neighboring communities, including young people, to fulfill this mission.
One of Groundwork Jacksonville’s successful youth programs is the Green Team Youth Corps, a year-round program that offers apprenticeships and fellowships to high school students from the city’s urban core neighborhoods. The program works to prepare Jacksonville’s youth for a lifetime of environmental and healthy community leadership as well as invest in their community’s future and capacity to improve its physical environment. Jeff and I collaborated with their program coordinators to incorporate another morning of trail maintenance into the Green Team’s annual overnight camping trip in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness.
The passionate Green Team apprentices learned about the unique ecology of the area and how to clear the Florida Trail corridor in the Wilderness using hand tools. Following trail work, the group met with representatives of the Ocala National Forest and explored career opportunities with the Forest Service. Through coordination with the FTA, the Green Team closed out their evening with a fun and engaging workshop on Leave No Trace (LNT) ethics led by enthusiastic instructors of LNT Traveling Trainers.
Thank you Groundwork Jacksonville and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics for a great and inspiring day. It brings tremendous hope to see today’s youth aspiring to be environmental stewards.
Girls Who Hike FL
Volunteer Work Party in Green Swamp West
Community Outreach Manager, Van Tran, writes:
On March 8-10, Central & South Florida Trail Program Manger, Kelly Wiener, and I hosted our first volunteer work party with a new partnership group, Girls Who Hike FL. Girls Who Hike FL is a Meetup group started by Angie Vasquez to unite women of all ages and backgrounds to get out on the trails and explore Florida together.
Through coordination with Suncoast Chapter members, Ralph Hancock and Lou Moser, we were able to enjoy a comfortable time camping at the Big Foot Wilderness Boy Scout campground. From clearing the trail to laughing and playing word games around the campfire, we had an amazing time with this crew. In a day and a half, we cleared a total of 10 miles of the Florida Trail in Green Swamp West.
We’re looking forward to planning more events with this inspiring group in the near future! Thank you, Girls Who Hike FL! And a very special thanks to Ralph Hancock and Lou Moser for coordinating the trail maintenance, weekend logistics and shuttling with us.
Join us at the FTA Annual Meeting
Saturday, April 6th 2019
9AM – 12PM
Wyndham Garden Hotel, Gainesville FL
  • Awards Ceremony
  • FTA Annual Meeting
  • Election of Officers
  • FTA Board and Chapter Council Meetings to follow in the afternoon
Ride the Divide
Warrior Expeditions
FT Program Director, Alex Stigliano writes,
I first learned of Warrior Expeditions in 2014, shortly after joining the FT Program staff, and I immediately connected to their mission. I came from a professional background of leading people on multi-day backcountry expeditions. I saw first-hand the transformative effect of time spent outdoors. I believe nature can bring out the best in people. Time spent away from roads, electricity, and commerce challenges us with new perspectives that inspire positive changes to our lives and communities. This is the basic premise ofWarrior Expeditions.
Warrior Expeditions is a veteran nonprofit outdoor therapy program that helps veterans transition from their wartime experiences. The program recognizes the therapeutic effects of long distance outdoor treks. With the support of the FTA and US Forest Service, Warrior Expeditions has sponsored veterans to hike the entire Florida Trail. These warriors and their stories have inspired many of us, including Mike Umbarger, an FTA member, volunteer and veteran.
Mike recently spoke with me about how Warrior Expeditions inspired him to create Ride the Divide for Warriors, a long-distance biking journey designed to raise support for this impactful program.
“Back in 2013 I was fortunate enough to complete my 2 ½ year section hike of the Florida Trail with my two sons, Zack 15 years old and Cody “Bear” 12 years old. We are still very thankful to the members and volunteers of the Florida Trail Association who made our adventure possible. I believe Ride the Divide for Warriors is a cause that FTA members would want to support.
“This August, Scott Renaux, Wilson Ospina, and I will be riding our mountain bikes along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. This 10 week, 3084-mile adventure will start in Jasper Alberta Canada heading south along the great divide to the border of Mexico, ending at Antelope Wells, NM. The purpose of this ride is to raise awareness and funds for Warrior Expeditions.
“Warrior Expeditions states that it cost approximately $5000 to equip and send one veteran on a long distance expedition (at no cost to the veteran). Ride the Divide for Warriors endeavors to raise $20,000 in order to send an entire Fire-Team (4-person team) on an expedition.
Mike has asked the FTA to pass along the following challenge to our members:
The Ride the Divide for Warriors team would like to challenge each member of the Florida Trail Association to donate just $2.00 to Warrior Expeditions help a veterans recover from their wartime experience. With your help, members of the Florida Trail Association can fully equip and send more veterans on long-term expeditions.
To make a tax deductible donation, please visit the link below and click on the donate button. Also, please click on the “add special instructions to the seller,” and enter “FTA” so that the members of the Florida Trail Association can be recognized for their support.
You can learn more about Ride the Divide for Warriors and follow their adventure on the following pages (click to follow the link):
Panhandle Trace Hike
Enjoy two 3-day weekends of exploring, hiking and camping along the Florida Trail in Escambia & Santa Rosa Counties
Helen Wigersma of the Western Gate Chapter writes:
The Panhandle Trace Hike, sponsored annually by the Western Gate Chapter, has a new format this year. Two 3-day weekend hiking events will be offered to introduce the public and all Florida Trail enthusiasts to the northern sections of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Come join the fun and explore either of the trail sections along the Yellow River, including the Yellow River Ravines Trail which provides a true wilderness hiking experience OR the sections which extend the FT to the north FL/AL line, winding through hilly longleaf pine habitats with lakes, beautiful streams and rivers. Daily guided hikes ranging in length from 7 to 11 miles will be offered with support available to shorten hikes if desired.
Dates are:
  • March 29-31 Hike Yellow River Trails: hike from Holt to Navarre, FL on wilderness hikes with multiple stream crossings, learn more about steepheads and their unique micro-climate, and enjoy the rustic beauty and multitude of unique aquatic plants, flowering trees and shrubs of North Florida in the springtime. (NOTE: the Saturday hike requires a recreation pass* from Eglin AFB). A Western Gate camping host will be at Blackwater River State Park. Make camping reservations through Reserve America https://www.reserveamerica.com/ or at the KOA near Milton, FL
  • April 5 – 7 Hike the Piney Woods: hike to the northern terminus of the FT, enjoy a lake-to-lake hike, and explore trails along the Blackwater River. Enjoy the diversity of wildflowers including pitcher plants, native azalea, dogwood, Florida anise, and mountain laurel. A Western Gate camping host will be at Hurricane Lake Recreation area in Blackwater River State Forest, with other options for camping in the Forest at Bear Lake, Karick Lake or Krul Lake. Make camping reservations through Reserve America https://www.reserveamerica.com/
For those who might like to hike more of the FT during the weekdays between the two weekends, Western Gate members can provide support in accessing trailheads as well as with pick-up and/or drop-off.
For additional information, contact Helen Wigersma (mojuco609@cox.net) or see the Western Gate Chapter Meetup site: https://www.meetup.com/ftawesterngate/
* For those who do not have a recreation pass from Eglin AFB, a one-day pass may be purchased online via iSportsman at this site: https://eglin.isportsman.net/
New FTA Store Shirts
Order yours today!
We’re excited to share the FTA Store has new, limited edition shirts, available while supplies last! These moisture-wicking, lightweight shirts are made of 100% Polyester. The shirt design features the unique ecosystems of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge & Gulf Islands National Seashore, two treasured sections of the Florida Trail in the Panhandle. The back of the shirts displays the FNST shield.
These shirts are light blue and are available as short- or long-sleeved in various sizes. Find more info and order yours today at: http://ftashop.floridatrail.org
Save the Date
Upcoming Volunteer Work Parties & FTA Special Events
Suwannee Bicycle Association
Pedal, Paddle and Play with SBA!
Since 1989, SBA has been promoting environmental awareness through bicycling, paddling, hiking and camping in the Suwannee Valley region. SBA’s historic clubhouse is just outside Stephen Foster State Park in White Springs, FL. Most of our events take place at the park, with easy access to hiking, road riding, paddling and 50 miles of mountain bike trails. For more information: www.suwanneebike.org
Sharing trails
Some SBA and FTA trails are shared by hikers and mountain bikers. A few years ago, the Town of White Springs, working with the FTA and SBA, created a reroute that takes FT hikers on SBA’s Bridge to Bridge mountain bike trail, along the Suwannee River and through the historic town of White Springs. In return, the FTA turned over to SBA a trail in Gar Pond. Another current FTA initiative, supported by SBA, is reopening a section of the Big Oak tract, across from the Suwannee River State Park, for hiking and cycling.
You’re invited:
Spring Pedal n’ Paddle Festival, May 2-5, 2019
2-3 days of paddling, cycling and more. Camping and meals included. More info here.
Florida Trail Association | 1-877-HIKE-FLA | floridatrail.org