Suffering from pandemic-induced cabin fever? Perhaps some fresh air and outdoor exercise in a local park or preserve can clear the homebound blues.
Maybe it’s best to take a hike.
While so much has changed in this unusual year, at least one thing remains on track: Hillsborough County’s fifth annual Hiking Spree.
Sponsored by the county’s parks and recreation department, the adventure challenge encourages people to exercise, explore the outdoors, and experience nature through numerous parks and preserves.
This year’s trail list features 25 trails at 20 locations throughout the county.
Here’s how the spree works: Complete at least eight trails between November and March 31 and earn a patch, a medallion for a walking stick, or a dog bandana. One of the hikes can be at a location of the participant’s choice that is not on the list of 20 locations.
Participants may hike on their own, or in a group setting with friends and family. Some sites have entrance and parking fees. Hikers may repeat any trail twice for credit, as long as the hikes occur on different dates.
Hiking Spree trails are designed to offer something for everyone, from hiking rookies to seasoned outdoor enthusiasts. Hikes are rated from easy to moderate to strenuous.
Lengths range from less than a mile to 7-miles long — such as the paved loop road at Thonotosassa’s Flatwoods Conservation Park.
Environmentally diverse sites are spread throughout the county and range from neighborhood parks such as Carrollwood Village Park, to large preserves with multiple habitats like the 1,100-acre Lake Dan Nature Preserve in Odessa.
Also, for the first time, this year’s trail list includes two state parks – Alafia River State Park and Little Manatee River State Park, in Lithia and Wimauma, respectively.
A total of seven of the 2021 Hiking Spree parks and preserves fall within The Laker/Lutz News coverage area: Carrollwood Village Neighborhood Park, Peterson Road Park, Lettuce Lake Conservation Park, Lake Rogers Conservation Park, Lake Dan Nature Preserve and Cypress Creek Nature Preserve.
While most parks, preserves and trails are rotated in and out of the Hiking Spree each year, a few locations are constants because they have so much to offer.
That includes Lettuce Lake, one of the county’s most popular parks, at 6920 East Fletcher Ave., in Tampa.
More than half of the park’s property lies in the natural flood plain of the Hillsborough River, consisting of a hardwood swamp forest. The remainder of the park consists of hardwood hammocks and pine flatwoods plant communities.
Within the park is a 1.25-mile paved exercise trail and 3,500-foot boardwalk with an observation tower that provides scenic views of the Hillsborough River and an opportunity to see all sorts of wildlife, from wading birds and songbirds, to even alligators.
Another favorite is the 1.25-mile Singing Bluffs Trail at Edward Medard Conservation Park, 95256 South County Road 39, in Plant City. The trail is noted for unique elevation changes due to some old phosphate mines, alongside plenty of wildlife to admire from afar.
Since its creation in 2016, the Hiking Spree program has grown in popularity each year, now drawing thousands of participants. The five-monthlong achievement window spanning fall and winter is timed to take advantage of the cooler, drier weather and to coincide with prime bird-watching times.
Here’s the list of parks and trails for the 2021 Hiking Spree:
Neighborhood Parks and Recreation Centers — short, paved trails with water and facilities
- Wortham Neighborhood Park, Riverview: Bluestem Trail (1.4 miles), Sand Pine Trail (1.7 miles)
- Carrollwood Village Neighborhood Park, Tampa: Laurel Oak Fitness Trail (1 mile)
- Peterson Road Park, Odessa: Upper Tampa Bay Trail (2.4 miles)
- Lucy Dell Community Pond, Tampa: Boardwalk Fitness Trail (0.5 miles)
- Seffner CommUNITY Park & Garden, Seffner: Hickory Fitness Trail (0.75 miles)
- FishHawk Sports Complex, Tampa: Pandion Fitness Trail (2 miles)
- Ruskin Neighborhood Park, Ruskin: Quiet Pines Fitness Trail (1.2 miles)
Conservation Parks — Mid-range, well-maintained paths and trails
- Lettuce Lake Conservation Park, Tampa: Hammock Run (1.25 miles), Boardwalk (0.75 mile)
- Edward Medard Conservation Park, Plant City: Singing Bluffs (1 mile), Levee Trail (2.64 miles)
- Lake Rogers Conservation Park, Odessa: Lakeside Trail (1.8 miles)
- Flatwoods Conservation Park, Thonotosassa: The Big Loop In The Woods (7 miles)
- Upper Tampa Bay Conservation Park, Tampa: Bobcat Trail (0.5 mile), Otter Trail (0.7 mile), Eagle Trail (0.3 mile)
Nature Preserves — No facilities, subject to daily conditions
- Apollo Beach Nature Preserve, Apollo Beach: Beach Dune Trail (0.2 mile)
- Lake Dan Nature Preserve, Odessa: West Spur Trail (4.8 miles)
- Bell Creek Nature Preserve, Riverview: Pine Lily Loop (3.7 miles)
- Cypress Creek Nature Preserve, Tampa: Two Loops Trail (3.4 miles)
- Golden Aster Nature Preserve, Gibsonton: Blue Lake Trail (3.3 miles)
- Blackwater Creek Nature Preserve, Plant City: Creekview Trail (4.4 miles)
Florida State Parks
- Alafia River State Park, Lithia: Old Agrico Hiking Trail (1 mile)
- Little Manatee River State Park, Wimauma: North Hiking Trail (6.5 miles)
Come prepared, and pace yourself
When hiking, it’s important to bring the following items:
- Correct trail map for your destination
- A compass or GPS
- Plenty of drinking water
- Appropriate shoes
- Sun protection
Parks officials also recommend that novices first gain experience at a neighborhood park, and then progress to the conservation parks and nature preserves.
The neighborhood parks and recreation centers are generally short, paved trails with water and facilities, unless otherwise noted.
Conservation park trails provide more of a nature experience than your typical neighborhood park trail. Though some are paved, most are primitive trails that traverse a variety of natural habitats ranging from upland pine flatwoods, to wetland swamps, to bottomland forests. Most of the conservation parks have amenities, such as running water, restrooms, playgrounds and manicured pathways.
Nature preserve trails, meanwhile, take the nature experience up several notches — almost as if you’re briefly leaving civilization for a hike. On a nature preserve, development is kept to a minimum to protect natural areas and wildlife. Nature preserve trailheads have small, unpaved parking lots, a fence with a walk-through entrance, and a small kiosk with trail information. They do not have restrooms or running water. Moreover, trails are unpaved, longer with fewer trail markers, and have rougher terrain.
What’s helpful, though, is nature preserves do feature trail markings, or blazes, usually colored in red, blue or yellow. These paint markings located on posts or trees will help guide you in the proper direction. So, if you come to an intersection, look for a blaze for what direction to hike. It’s recommended to always carry a map when hiking a nature preserve.
Participants are encouraged to post photos from their hikes using the hashtag #TakeAHikeHC. Visit HCFLGov.net/hikingspree for information and to register.
Published November 04, 2020