Suwannee Democrat

Features

January 28, 2013

Exploring one of our area’s treasures

Live Oak — By Donna Ellis


Publicity chairperson 


Suwannee Chapter of the Florida Trail Association

There is a treasure in our area that I am continuously amazed to realize is unknown to many of our local residents. I am referring to the Florida National Scenic Trail, which meanders around much of our county’s boundary between Hamilton, Madison and Columbia counties. You may have noticed the triangular logo with an orange FT in the center, at various points throughout the area where the trail crosses a roadway, as in White Springs at Stephen Foster Heritage Park, on US 90 west of the Suwannee River, or on CR 141 at the Withlacoochee River Bridge.


Development of the Florida Trail began with volunteers of the Florida Trail Association in 1960.

Today, bordered by rivers and lakes and surrounded by forest of palms, pine, cypress and moss-draped live oaks, the trail offers a unique hiking experience. Utilizing public lands where possible and developed under agreements with private landowners elsewhere, the Trail threads its way through the state. It begins its journey in South Florida, in the Big Cypress National Preserve, a semi-tropical ecosystem featuring cypress trees draped with orchids and bromeliads and continues through the state to North Florida which is known for its rivers, deep woods, unsurpassed scenery and solitude. The section through our area is regarded as one of the most beautiful in the state and is designated as part of the Florida National Scenic Trail.


The winter and spring months, when the air is crisp and the dry season is upon the land, are best for hiking in Florida. You may expect to see abundant wildlife as you hike the quiet wilderness areas. In our area, one can walk along the undulating bluffs of the Suwannee River or wander through plantations reclaimed by pine flatwoods. This is an activity that can be enjoyed by all family members regardless of age or fitness level and it cost nothing but your time! One only needs to plan for the physical limitations of the least fit in your group, have a map to determine distance and direction, wear comfortable shoes, carry water, snacks and bug spray and follow the orange trail blazes.


For the more fit and adventurous, there is the option of backpacking for an over-night stay in the woods. There are camping areas for primitive camping along the trail, with some that have hot showers, screen houses for sleeping and covered pavilions for eating in case of inclement weather. For those who would be interested in trying this as a new activity, the Suwannee Chapter is sponsoring a short backpacking trip for beginners on March 2-3, 2013, with an orientation meeting to be held on Feb. 2, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Suwannee County Public Library in Live Oak on US 129. For more information on this activity, contact rjwildlife@windstream.net for more details. 


The Suwannee Chapter of Florida Trails was founded in l993 and serves Dixie, Columbia, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Taylor and Suwannee counties. Together with our partners, we provide opportunities for the public to hike, engage in outdoor recreation, participate in environmental education and contribute to meaningful volunteer work. Monthly meetings are held on the second Monday of the month, September through June, and programs provide information on a wide variety of topics pertaining to nature, ecology, wildlife, photography and outdoor skills training. 


The Suwannee Chapter is eager to recruit and train more volunteers to assist with the maintenance of the many miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail in our area, including the Econfina, Ellaville and Big Oak Trails. Our goal is to increase the diversity of our membership and to attract new members and partners in order to increase awareness of this natural treasure entrusted to our care. 


We welcome the general public to our monthly meetings, held on the second Monday of the month, at the Suwannee River Water Management District Office, 9225 CR 49, Live Oak, from 7-9 p.m. The chapter also sponsors many hiking, paddling and camping activities throughout the year. If you would be interested in joining us, please contact Chapter Chairperson, Sylva Dunnam, at 386-362-3256, or by e-mail at: dunnams@windsteam.net, for more information on the association, our sponsored activities or the monthly program. You may also visit our web site at: www.suwannee.floridatrail.org or www.meetup.com/Suwannee-FTA, for a calendar of activities, or the Florida Trail Association web site at www.floridatrail.org.

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