Wednesday, February 4, 2009
DEP CELEBRATES FEBRUARY AS FLORIDA HIKING TRAILS MONTH
Greenways and trails offer affordable, fun and healthy opportunities to explore the outdoors TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Florida Trail Association are encouraging Floridians to lace up their walking shoes and hike a trail throughout the month of February to celebrate Florida Hiking Trails Month. In addition, Governor Charlie Crist recently signed a proclamation inviting residents and visitors alike to explore Florida’s outstanding system of greenways and trails by taking advantage of the free fitness benefits, recreational activities and alternative transportation options the system has to offer. “February is a great time to enjoy the state’s natural beauty through a quiet walk or an invigorating hike,” said Jena Brooks, Director of the DEP Office of Greenways & Trails (OGT). “Florida has long been committed to preserving its natural lands and creating a system of greenways and trails that make it easy and affordable for people to access the beautifully wild and green spaces that entice us outdoors this time of year.” From the longleaf pine forests of north Florida to the island paradise of the Florida Keys, hikers have the opportunity to explore the state’s diverse environment on foot, through what will eventually be a continuous wilderness corridor. The Florida Trail, one of eight federally designated National Scenic Trails, now includes loop and linear trails on public lands throughout Florida and will ultimately extend 1,560 miles from the Gulf Islands National Seashore in the Panhandle to Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida. “The Florida Trail System is an incredible network of hiking trails that exist within an hour's drive of most major population areas and tourist destinations in Florida,” said Deborah R. Stewart-Kent, Executive Director of the Florida Trail Association. “This extensive system offers a myriad of places for people to connect to natural Florida for a walk in the woods. Wonders abound along the Florida Trail for people of all ages to experience and enjoy in Florida's great outdoors.” Florida Hiking Trails Month celebrates the more than 1,800-miles of hiking trails throughout Florida and the volunteers and public and private partners who make this trail system possible. Florida Hiking Trails Month emphasizes fun and fitness along all of the state's scenic and diverse trails, including paved rail-trails, urban trails through cityscapes and wilderness trails. Florida Hiking Trails Month 2009 events are being held statewide and can be found at the Florida Trail Association website at: www.floridatrail.org/component/option,com_events. Events taking place on OGT managed lands include: Third Annual Walk Across Marion County Santos Trailhead on the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, Marion County Wednesdays, February 11, 18 and 25, 8:30 a.m. Participate in the Third Annual Walk Across Marion County and walk a different section of the Florida Trail on the Cross Florida Greenway in Marion County each Wednesday in February. The event is free, open to the public and an excellent opportunity to learn where the various trailheads are located in the area. The hikes featured include: February 11: Land Bridge trailhead to 49th Avenue trailhead via Blue Loop, 4.5 miles. February 18: 49th Avenue trailhead to Ross Prairie trailhead via the Eastern Blue-Blaze, 7 miles. February 25: Ross Prairie trailhead to Pruitt trailhead via the Western Blue-Blaze, 5.9 miles. Please meet Wednesday mornings at Santos Campground at 8:30 AM to carpool to the various trailheads. Alternative meeting places can be arranged. For more information, contact Bob Jones, a volunteer with the Florida Trail Association at (352) 347-5716. Children’s Mardi Gras Walk Blackwater Heritage State Trail, Milton Saturday, February 21, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Hosted by the Blackwater Heritage Trail Citizen Support Organization, this event features a costume contest and family walk along the trail. The event is free and open to the public. For more information contact Gerard Greco, (850) 983-5338. Florida’s greenways and trails offer countless activities that are inexpensive and can be found close to home. But beyond the health and environmental benefits, outdoor recreation at both greenways and trails also pays off in economic benefits. According to a report by the Outdoor Industry Foundation, three out of every four Americans participate in active outdoor recreation each year. The study states that outdoor recreation contributes $730 billion annually to the U.S. economy, supports nearly 6.5 million jobs across the U.S. and provides sustainable growth in communities. To view the Foundation’s report, visit www.outdoorindustryfoundation.org. DEP’s OGT has taken a lead role in working to establish a statewide system of greenways and trails and entered into partnerships of many forms to accomplish its legislative mandate. The DEP’s Office of Greenways & Trails manages eight state trails, in addition to the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway. The Greenway is Florida’s longest green corridor stretching 110 miles from the St. Johns River near Palatka to the Gulf of Mexico near Inglis. Of the eight state trails, six are rail-trails, which are railroad corridors converted to recreational trails for hiking, biking, skating, equestrian activities and alternative transportation. Through Florida Forever, the state’s premier land acquisition program, $4.5 million is allocated annually to purchase and preserve land for Florida’s greenways and trails. Florida recently garnered national recognition for its commitment to facilitating an outstanding statewide system of trails. Honored for its vision, initiatives and management of trails throughout the state, Florida was the first-ever recipient of the Best Trails State Award presented by American Trails, the only national, nonprofit organization working on behalf of all trail interests. For more information about Florida’s trails, visit FloridaGreenwaysAndTrails.com. For information about hiking the Florida Trail and volunteering with the Florida Trail Association, visit www.floridatrail.org or call toll free 877-HIKE-FLA. To view the Governor’s Florida Hiking Trails Month proclamation, please visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/news/2009/02/files/trails_month.pdf.
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