Growing up in Florida has given me the opportunity to regularly visit some of the most popular tourist areas in the US but early last summer I was looking for some new territories to explore. I discovered that there are 35 different State Forests within Florida that encompass over 1 million acres of land. This was interesting to find out because I hadn’t heard of any of them before! Upon doing some more research I discovered the Florida Trailwalker Program.
This is a program that was created by the Florida Forest Service to get more people outdoors and exploring the beauty of nature. The program consists of a list of about 45 different trails located within the forests. The objective is to hike a trail on the list, fill out a survey card which can be found at each trailhead, add the hike to your Trailwalker’s Log, send in the survey card, and receive a sticker through the mail to add to your Log.
When you have completed 10 trails and received 10 stickers you can send in your log and become an official Trailwalker. The Florida Forest Service will send you a commemorative certificate and a sew-on patch that is one of 3 that complete a whole design. Once you have hiked 20 trails you can send in that log and receive Trailblazer status and get another piece of the patch and certificate. When you have hiked a total of 30 trails from the list you become an honorary Trailmaster of Florida State Forests and will receive the last piece of the patch and a final certificate.
If you live in Florida or are a frequent visitor to the state this is an excellent program to get involved in. There is no cost to participate although some of the forests have a day use fee of $2 per vehicle. A one year pass can be purchased for unlimited visits through the Friends of Florida State Forests website for $30. This is a great way to get motivated about visiting State Forests. You will be able to feel a sense of accomplishment with every sticker added to your Trailwalker’s Log and a sense of satisfaction about discovering nature at its finest.
So far I have visited 6 of the forests and hiked 13 trails from the Trail List so I’m on my way to becoming a Trailblazer. The most interesting forest I’ve been to so far is the Big Shoals State Forest which is located just outside a town called White Springs, at the intersection of I-75 and I-10 in North Florida. An article was just published about Big Shoals in the Florida State Forest magazine issue of Winter 2012. It is highlighted because of its Class III whitewater rapids on the Suwannee River when the river level is between 59 and 61 feet in elevation. As you might imagine, these are the largest whitewater rapids in all of Florida. They attract canoe and kayak enthusiasts and many other visitors year-round. This is just one of the many interesting features of a Florida State Forest – so much more to be discovered on the way to becoming a Trailmaster.