Anybody ever tell you to take a hike?
Well, it’s not a bad idea, and this time of year is a great time to do it, especially since the sixth annual Hillsborough County Hiking Spree has begun.
This annual event offers residents an adventure challenge to explore different types of trails at local parks and preserves.
This year’s Hiking Spree features 26 trails at 22 locations spread throughout the county, encompassing neighborhood parks and recreation centers, conservation parks, nature preserves and state parks.
Here’s how it works: Complete at least eight trails between November and the end of March, and you will earn a patch, a medallion for a walking stick, or a pet bandana.
Participants can choose one hike that’s not on the listed locations.
Participants may go hiking solo, or along with a friends and family. Hikers can bring along dogs, too, as long as the canines are kept on a leash.
Hikers may repeat any trail twice for credit, as long as the hikes occur on different dates.
The Hiking Spree is designed to offer something for everyone, from hiking rookies to seasoned outdoor enthusiasts.
Trails are rated from easy to moderate to strenuous.
Lengths range from less than a mile to over 5 miles, such as the 5.36-mile Snaggy Run trail at Bell Creek Nature Preserve in Riverview.
Five of the 2022 Hiking Spree parks and preserves fall within The Laker/Lutz News coverage area. They are: Northdale Park, Ed Radice Sports Complex, Lettuce Lake Conservation Park, Lake Conservation Park, Lake Frances Nature Preserve, respectively.
While many of the 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.
Another darling is the 1.25-mile Singing Bluffs Trail at Edward Medard Conservation Park, 6140 Turkey Creek Road, in Plant City.
The trail is revered for unique elevation changes due to some old phosphate mines, alongside plenty of wildlife to admire from afar.
Making the list for the first time this year is the 2.5-mile Tidal Walk preserve Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach.
Hillsborough County’s hiking extravaganza — which draws thousands of participants annually — began in 2016 to encourage people to exercise, explore the outdoors, and experience nature through numerous parks and preserves.
It was modeled on successful programs elsewhere, most notably Summit Metro Parks’ community hiking event throughout Akron, Ohio.
More than 5,500 people registered for last year’s Hiking Spree, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
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.
Parks officials 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. Additionally, most trails at neighborhood parks are ADA-accessible.
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.
Participants are encouraged to post photos from their hikes using the hashtag #TakeAHikeHC.
For more information and to register, visit HCFLGov.net/HikingSpree.
Here is the list of parks and trails for the 2022 Hiking Spree:
Neighborhood Parks — short, paved trails with water facilities
- Stephen J. Wortham Park, Riverview: Bluestem Trail: 1.4 miles
- Northdale Park, Tampa: Owl Fitness Trail: 0.5 miles
- Ed Radice Sports Complex, Odessa: Radice Fitness Park: 1.25 miles
- All People’s Life Center, Tampa: All People’s Fitness Trail: 0.45 miles
- Rodney Colson Park, Seffner: Cougar Fitness Trail: 0.5 miles
- Boyette Springs Park, Riverview: Blackbird Fitness Trail: 0.75 miles
- Bertha and Tony Saladino Park, Brandon: Sandhill Fitness Trail: 0.5 miles
Conservation Parks — mid-range, well-maintained paths and trails
- Lettuce Lake Conservation Park, Tampa: Hammock Run: 1.25 miles; Boardwalk: 0.75 miles
- Edward Medard Conservation Park, Plant City: Singing Bluffs: 1.25 miles; Levee Trail: 2.6 miles
- Lake Conservation Park, Lutz: Lake Vista Trail: 1.5 miles
- Alderman’s Ford Conservation Park, Plant City: Picnic Trail: 1.9 miles
- Upper Tampa Bay Conservation Park, Tampa: Bobcat Trail: 0.4 miles, Otter Trail: 0.6 miles, Eagle Trail: 0.25 miles
Nature Preserves — no facilities, subject to daily conditions
- Lower Green Swamp Nature Preserve, Plant City: Longleaf Loop: 5 miles
- Alafia River Corridor South Preserve, Lithia: Horseshoe Trail: 3 miles
- Bell Creek Nature Preserve, Riverview: Snaggy Run: 5.36 miles
- Bahia Beach Nature Preserve, Ruskin: Wetland Walk: 1.4 miles
- Lake Frances Nature Preserve, Odessa: Pasture Pass: 4.5 miles
- Blackwater Creek Nature Preserve, Plant City: Creekview Trail: 4.36 miles
Florida State Parks
- Alafia River State Park, Lithia: Old Agrico Hiking Trail: 1 mile
- Little Manatee River State Park, Wimauma: North Hiking Trail: 2.9 miles
- Manatee Viewing Center, Apollo Beach: Tidal Walk: 2.5 miles
- Hillsborough River State Park, Thonotosassa: Wetland Trail: 3.5 miles
Come prepared, and pace yourself
When hiking, remember to bring these items:
- Correct trail map for your destination
- A compass or GPS
- Plenty of drinking water
- Appropriate shoes
- Sun protection
Published November 10, 2021