Take a hike — that’s what the Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation wants you to do this winter.
The county’s Hiking Spree program returns for its second year, with a new set of diverse trails for residents and visitors to explore.
The program began in November and runs through March 31.
Here’s how it works:
- People may walk any of 20 designated trails on their own, with friends, as part of a group, or with a member of the Parks & Recreation staff. There also is a wild-card hike of sorts: Hikers choose their own trail, which can be anywhere.
- Participants can receive a brass medallion or Access Hiker patch after completing eight of the 20 hikes.
- The program works strictly on an honor system. Nobody monitors your progress.
- Anyone can participate. There are no age or physical restrictions, and you don’t have to be a Hillsborough County resident.
It’s designed to offer something for everyone from hiking rookies to seasoned outdoor enthusiasts.
Some of the trails are at well-known regional parks, such as Lettuce Lake, Upper Tampa Bay, and Lithia Springs.
Others are at more obscure preserves, including Alafia Scrub and Blackwater Creek.
Those who want a more leisurely walk can go to neighborhood and recreation centers, including Northdale, All People’s, and Valrico, which are part of the program, too.
Each trail has a classification and difficulty rating. Distances range from about one-third mile to more than 4 miles.
Hikers can walk paths near their homes, but also are encouraged to explore new terrain.
“We’ve basically highlighted 20 trails that we thought people would like to see,” said Dana McDonald, special events coordinator for Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation.
“We wanted to make sure there were acceptable trails. We wanted to make sure there were some easier trails for people who just started out — a little bit more primitive trails for people who really want to get deep into nature.”
While still new, the outdoor initiative already seems to be a hit.
About 1,000 people participated in the inaugural program last year.
Thousands more are expected to take part this year. In fact, more than 3,200 people have already registered for this year’s challenge.
The hiking event promotes the county’s parks and trail offerings, encouraging people to get active outdoors and experience “natural” Florida.
Set across fall, winter and early spring, it’s also timed to take advantage of the cooler, drier weather and to coincide with prime bird-watching season.
“It’s a way to kind of get out and turn off the cellphones, turn off the electronics and just kind of be out there, take some time for yourself,” McDonald said.
“It’s a great way for families to explore nature,” she added.
Hiking Spree is modeled on successful programs elsewhere, most notably in Akron, Ohio. There, the Summit Metro Parks community hiking event draws some 12,000 participants annually.
Parks & Recreation officials hope to surpass that mark one day.
“We want to take as many people out to our parks as possible,” McDonald said. “We just want to make sure people see it and they experience it.”
For information or to register, visit hcflgov.net/hikingspree.
Here’s the list of parks and trails for the 2018 Hiking Spree:
- Alafia Scrub Nature Preserve, Riverview: River Bend Trail (1.5 miles)
- Alderman’s Ford Conservation, Plant City: Two Rivers Loop (1.9 miles); Enchanted Forest Run (1 mile)
- All People’s Life Center, Tampa: Nature Trail (0.40 miles)
- Bell Creek Nature Preserve, Riverview: Nature Trail (4.1 miles)
- Blackwater Creek Nature Preserve, Plant City: Central Loop (4.2 miles)
- Branchton Neighborhood Park, Tampa: Gray Fox Fitness Trail (.75 miles)
- Channel Park Trailhead, Tampa: Upper Tampa Bay Trail—north to Wilsky Road Trailhead and return (3 miles)
- Cockroach Bay Nature Preserve, Ruskin: Nature Trail (.70 miles)
- Edward Medard Conservation Park, Plant City: Singing Bluffs Trail (.70 miles)
- Eureka Springs Conservation Park, Tampa: Serenity Loop (.35 miles)
- Golden Aster Scrub Nature Preserve, Gibsonton: Nature Trail (3.5 miles)
- Lettuce Lake Conservation Park, Tampa: Hammock Run or Boardwalk (2.1 miles)
- Lithia Springs Conservation Park, Lithia: Fish Hawk Trail North (3 miles)
- Lower Green Swamp Nature Preserve, Plant City: Nature Trail (2 miles)
- Northdale Neighborhood Park, Tampa: Owl Fitness Trail (.45 miles)
- Peterson Road Neighborhood Park Trailhead, Odessa: Upper Tampa Bay Trail—south to Ehrlich Road and return (2.4 miles)
- Ruskin/Baudette Neighborhood Park, Ruskin: Quiet Pines Fitness Trail (1.2 miles)
- Upper Tampa Bay Conservation Park, Tampa: Bobcat, Eagle and Otter Trails (1.7 miles total)
- Valrico Neighborhood Park, Valrico: Rolling Acres Fitness Trail (.40 miles)
- Wild-card trail (choose your own)
Published January 3, 2018