Spring 2015 Connections

Florida Greenways and Trails Connections

OGT Opportunity Map Update Begins

During the coming months, the DEP Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) will be updating the statewide trail Opportunity Maps in coordination with the Florida Greenways and Trails Council, federal, state and regional agencies, counties and cities, non-profit organizations, and the citizens of Florida.

The Opportunity Maps serve as the basis used for implementing and comleting a connected statewide system of greenways and trails for recreation, conservation, alternative transportation, healthy lifestyles, a vibrant economy and a high quality of life. The last update occurred in 2012.  For background and an overview of the schedule for developing the current update, visit the OGT website and view the 2015 FGTS Opportunity Update page. There are opportunities for public input, including an upcoming webinar and a series of public workshops planned for September of 2015 (dates and locations to be announced).


Second Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition Ends 1,000-Mile Journey

State Park Director Donalf Forgione speaks to expedition members
Florida Park Service Director Donald Forgione speaks to expedition members Mallory Dimmitt, Joe Guthrie and Carlton Ward Jr.

The second high profile Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition made tracks through the state January 10 through March 19, 2015, traversing 1,000 miles in 70 days from the Green Swamp in central Florida to the Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola. The trekkers, conservationist Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, conservation photographer Carlton Ward Jr. and bear biologist Joe Guthrie, made their way by foot, kayak and mountain bike, threading their way through some of the finest waterways and landscapes in the region. Their main purpose was to show how an interconnected network of conserved lands and waters are essential for the survival of Florida’s diverse wildlife. By example, they also highlighted some great places to recreate.

Every Saturday during the expedition, the team held public trail mixers where people could join them for a short hike or paddling trip. OGT staff assisted with four of those trail mixers—Steinhatchee River, Ochlockonee River State Park, Owl Creek along the Apalachicola River Blueway, and the Blackwater River State Park. Florida Park Service director Donald Forgione participated in two of the events.

The initial 2012 expedition started in the Everglades, trekked through peninsular Florida, and ended at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It also covered 1,000 miles and a documentary and book were produced. “If we show Floridians the panthers, bears, native cultures, ranchlands and rivers—and how they are all connected—then they can help us make the Florida Wildlife Corridor a reality,” states the group’s website. Statewide, about 9.5 million acres of the Florida Wildlife Corridor are already protected and an estimated 6.3 million acres do not have conservation status. The Corridor adheres closely to the Florida Ecological Network coordinated by Dr. Tom Hoctor. The Network is updated every five years and is approved by the Florida Greenways and Trails Council, with the most recent Network map posted on the OGT website. Mr. Hoctor assisted in developing the routes for the wildlife corridor expeditions. In the next few months, a documentary film will be released of the most recent wildlife corridor expedition.


The 'Other' Spring Break along Coast

spring break students and trash they picked up in Keys
members of the Georgia Tech Trail Blazers and trash they collected in Pennekamp State Park

Florida’s state parks and trails are a strong magnet for college students during spring break every year, but there are many groups of student volunteers who come to Florida to do more than party and work on a tan. In John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park each spring a steady parade of 4 to 5 different colleges make a pilgrimage to the Keys as part of ‘Alternative Spring Break.’ Students pick up trash, do service projects and help beautify the park.  Student volunteers stay in a primitive group camp, work hard for 3 to 4 days and then have another couple of days of fun in the sun.  A recent college service group, the Georgia Tech Trail Blazers, accomplished a phenomenal amount of work in just one week. They built artificial nests for the endangered Key Largo wood rat, mulched trails to ensure accessibility and safe hiking conditions for park guests, and picked up 5,000 pounds of trash from one of the oceanside islands.  

Along the entire Keys coastline, high tide and storm events regularly wash up massive amounts of litter, including along shorelines of area state parks. Park staff schedule periodic coastal cleanups with volunteer groups and usually get 1 to 2 tons of trash in a few days while cleaning only a small fraction of a mile of shoreline.  According to Pennekamp’s Park Manager Paul Rice, “We always remind the groups that even though there is always more to do, no one can deny the positive impact they have made by removing thousands of pounds of trash from the ecosystem.”

Florida’s award-winning state parks rely heavily on thousands of committed volunteers who donate many hours of time and talent throughout the year to keep the parks running.  And the student volunteers who share their youthful energy during a positive version of spring break are more than welcome to return year after year!

State Parks Designated as part of FL Greenways & Trails System

shoals in Hillsborough River State Park, by Doug Alderson
Hillsborough River State Park, which features these unique shoals, was one of 14 state parks added to the Florida Greenways and Trails System.

The Florida Greenways and Trails Council (FGTC) met in Tallahassee on March 19 and approved the designation of 14 Florida State Parks as part of the Florida Greenways and Trails System (FGTS).  This brings the total to 156 of the 171 state parks and state trails designated as part of the system. The mission of the FGTS is to create a statewide network of greenways and trails throughout Florida, from Key West to Pensacola, including state parks, other public lands, waterways, and private lands. The designation program ensures an inclusive and interconnected system, provides recognition of individual pieces of the system, and raises public awareness of wildlife and natural lands conservation and the benefits of healthy outdoor recreational opportunities. Designation as part of the FGTS is voluntary, and results in partnerships for conservation and management of the system’s many pieces. 

To be designated, a land or waterway must protect and/or enhance natural, recreational, cultural or historic resources. The land or waterway must provide linear open space, a hub site, or promote connectivity between or among conservation lands, communities, parks, or other recreational facilities, cultural or historic sites.

The designation application process can be initiated by any interested person, organization, government agency or coalition acting as the sponsor. Participation as a landowner is voluntary, and the landowner(s) must express a willingness to proceed with the designation. Designation into the FGTS provides the private landowner liability protection. For more information about the designation process visit: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt/FGTS_Plan/designation/

“We are proud to add these additional 14 state parks as designated lands into the system,” said Florida Park Service Director Donald Forgione. “Designation of Florida State Parks affirms the parks are excellent hubs and destinations for healthy outdoor recreation—paddling, fishing and wildlife viewing—and they promote sustainable tourism and economic benefits for local communities.”

For background and an overview of the FGTS, visit the Office of Greenways and Trails website and view the 2012 Florida Greenways and Trails System Plan.


Alternate Route Created for Circumnavigational Trail in Panhandle

Choctawhatchee Bay along alternate CT route
Choctawhatchee Bay is part of the alternate Circumnavigational Trail route in the Panhandle.

Imagine paddling 1,500 miles around the entire coastline on the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail (CT) carrying everything needed for food, shelter, and daily life within the confines of a 17- foot sea kayak. Each year a few hardy people known as “thru-paddlers” tackle this challenge and paddle the entire coastline in one attempt.  Other paddlers explore the trail as time permits and may take years to complete it, similar to how many hikers “chip away” at the Appalachian Trail or Florida National Scenic Trail. 

Most seasoned paddlers begin their long journey at Big Lagoon State Park near the Alabama border between November and December and head east, ultimately ending the journey at Fort Clinch State Park near the Georgia state line 3 to 4 months later. This itinerary helps them time their visit to arrive in the Keys and Everglades during January or February to avoid heat and bugs.  In doing so, however, they are often slammed by North Florida’s sometimes frigid winter weather and high winds that accompany a steady parade of cold fronts.  

In an effort to address these bad weather spells and help increase safety of CT paddlers, a more sheltered inland alternate route has been created. This new route allows them to travel through the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) and inland bays between Destin and Apalachicola, a distance of about 145 miles. The route skirts the north shore of the Choctawhatchee Bay and traverses through St Andrews Bay and Lake Wimico to Apalachicola, a remote and sparsely populated stretch. Several state parks, Fred Gannon/Rocky Bayou, Eden Gardens, and St. Andrews, are included in the new route for overnight stays or interesting places to visit. It is also possible for paddlers to return to the original coastal route at several points if weather conditions are favorable. The alternate route does have its own potential challenges with long stretches of open water in the various bays and large barges that may be encountered in the narrow ICW.

To date, a total of 15 people have completed the entire CT and a couple more are currently on the trail. A new tradition was started last year with an inaugural reunion of those who have paddled the entire 1,500-mile trail or those making it a “work in progress.”  Also participating were Florida Paddling Trail Association volunteers who maintain many of the primitive campsites and ‘Trail Angels’ who host paddlers as they journey along the coastline, sharing support and hospitality.  This year’s CT reunion will be held the first weekend of May at Wekiwa Springs State Park near Orlando. Those who are interested in learning more about the trail and hearing adventures from the CT paddlers are welcome to attend the Saturday “meet and greet” event May 2, 4 p.m., at the Recreation Hall in the Wekiwa Springs Youth Camp. 

Spring 2015

Man and boy hike in the Cross Florida Greenway
Hiking in the Cross Florida Greenway, by John Moran

Cross Florida Greenway Addition to be Purchased

Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet approved the purchase of a 194-acre addition to the Cross Florida Greenway (Greenway) on March 24, This is the first from a recent Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) acquisition cycle. Located in Marion County between the Greenway and Ocala National Forest, the tract largely consists of upland pinewoods and is considered highly scenic. The proposed 21-mile Ocklawaha River Corridor Trail will traverse the property, linking Silver Springs State Park to the lower Ocklawaha River region.

“This acquisition provides a critical connector for the Cross Florida Greenway, furthering recreational opportunities through additional trailhead access and camping areas,” said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson. 

The Cross Florida Greenway is a key component of the Florida Greenways and Trails System Plan Priority Trails Network, and is home to approximately 36 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail. The greenway stretches 110 miles across central Florida from the Gulf of Mexico on the west coast to the St. Johns River near the east coast. The corridor encompasses diverse natural habitats and traverses four counties (Citrus, Levy, Marion and Putnam). With hiking, biking, equestrian and paddling trails, boat ramps, fishing spots, campgrounds, playground and picnic shelters, the Greenway offers visitors of all interests and ages a great place to enjoy Florida's natural treasures. 

In fiscal year 2013-14, 927,008 people visited the Greenway, generating an estimated $74,341,241 in direct economic impact. Of the 171 units of the Florida State Parks System, the Greenway is ranked the third-highest unit in attendance and direct economic impact; only Honeymoon Island and the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail rank higher.


Endurance Runs Held on State Trail

Marcin Mrowka finishing his 50 mile race
Marcin Mrowka finishing his 50-mile race

By Chris Rodatz, Race Director

Participants came from Canada, South Africa, Austria, Great Britain, Alaska and 20 of the lower 48 States! Almost 150 runners toed the starting line in Florahome on the Palatka-to-Lake Butler State Trail at 7 a.m. on February 7 for the Iron Horse Endurance Runs. Temperatures were in the high 30s at the start and would reach the low 60s. A perfect day for a race! Almost half of the race was run on the scenic Palatka-to-Lake Butler State Trail with its overhanging trees and Spanish moss. Then, the course shifted to dirt trails and forest service roads in the Etoniah Creek State Forest.

The 100 milers were led from the beginning by California’s Oswaldo Lopez who, although battling cramps, managed a 15:58 finishing time to get his first Iron Horse sterling silver buckle.  The first female was Kristen Jarembeck from Washington DC in 4th place with a time of 21:08. In addition to receiving a belt buckle or medal, winners also received a shoe gift card from Altra, the zero drop shoe Company, and a bottle of wine from the locally owned Tangled Oaks winery.

An attractive feature of the Iron Horse course is that, due to its benign nature, it is not only a fast course, but an excellent course for the beginning Ultrarunner. The 50 mile race was won in 7:30 by Robert Millican from St Simons Island, Georgia, a transplanted triathlete. Right on his heels came the ever effervescent Daniele Cherniak in 7:37 in her 2nd Iron Horse 50 win (Daniele will do anything to get out of frigid New York). The 100km was no contest between men and women this year. Bonnie Collins from Del Ray Beach, Florida burned the men in 11:10. The first man was Randall Edwards from North Carolina in 11:31.

One of the great features of Ultrarunning are the many unique runners one would never have time to get to know in a short race. One of those is Marcin Mrowka, a Polish runner from New York, who hitched a ride from Brooklyn to Jacksonville. He then rode his bicycle from Jacksonville to St Augustine, a 40-50 mile stretch, spent the night, and pedaled to Palatka another 30 miles. On race morning, he rode his bike 15 miles to the starting line in Florahome and ran the 50 miler, finishing in 7th place with a time of 8:11. After resting about an hour, he left to start the return trek to Brooklyn. A true Ultrarunner if there ever was one.

Credit is due our volunteers who make the races a success. From the Navy JROTC cadets, who man the aid stations during the day, to Dave Bokros from Florida Striders Running Club at night, with his world famous seafood gumbo at aid station 2, to the Putnam County Blueways and Trails CSO who manned aid station 3 at night. Iron Horse 2016 will be February 6-7 in 2016, so mark your calendars!


Capital City to Sea Trails Gaining Steam

riders on the Tallahassee-St. Marks Trail, part of the Capital City to Sea Trails.
Riders on the Tallahassee-St. Marks State Trail, part of the planned Capital City to Seas Trail, by John Moran.

By Jon Sewell 

The Capital City to the Sea Trails (CC2ST) Master Plan envisions a series of shared use paths that will connect various areas from Capital Cascades Park in the City of Tallahassee all the way to the Gulf Coast in Wakulla County. The trails are intended to provide better connectivity and mobility for residents and visitors traveling throughout Leon and Wakulla Counties. The entire proposed CC2ST network will be over 120 miles once the full master plan is implemented. The master plan was created through data collection, extensive public involvement, and agency coordination and participation. The Capital City to the Sea Trails Master Plan was adopted by the Capital Region Transportation Planning Agency (CRTPA) in April 2014 with a unanimous vote by the board members!

The first project to be developed from the master plan is the Coastal Trail which begins at C.R. 59 and terminates at Surf Road in Wakulla County.  This project is approximately 24 miles in length and will connect two existing trails, the Tallahassee - St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail and Ochlockonee Bay Trail. The Project Development and Environment (PD&E) Study for the Coastal Trail was approved by the CRTPA Board in April 2014 and initiated in June 2014 with an expected completion in early summer 2015.

Based on the expected completion date of the PD&E Study, the CRTPA Board approved the use of funds for the remaining phases of the project, Design, and Construction.  While the PD&E covers the entirety of the Coastal Trail limits, the Design phase will approach the completion of the section from the St. Marks Trail (eastern terminus of the design project) to US 319 (western terminus of the design project) at this point in time with further efforts made to finish the project as funding becomes available.  The Design phase is schedule to begin in early FY 15/16 and be completed in late FY 16/17.


Ribbon-cutting at Winding Waters Natural Area

boardwalk at Winding Waters Natural Area
Boardwalk at Winding Waters Natural Area in Southeast Florida's Palm Beach County

Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla A. Taylor, along with federal, state, and local project partners, officially opened the public-use facilities at Winding Waters Natural Area on March 12. After the ribbon- cutting ceremony, staff led visitors on a guided tour along the nature trail, sharing stories about the incredible transformation of the site. After the walk, County Administrator Bob Weisman joined staff and local paddling enthusiasts on a kayak tour of the created wetland. While Winding Waters has been open to the public since December 2012, it wasn’t until early March that all the finishing touches were in place and the site was declared officially open.

The restoration work of the area took five years and included the removal of 150 acres of exotic trees, relocation of over 2,000 trees, excavation of the 145-acre wetland, backfilling one mile of canal, installation of water control structures to divert and retain water on site, planting of over 150,000 native plants, and the construction of public-use facilities.

The Winding Waters public-use facilities include a parking lot, informational kiosk, accessible kayak launch and nature trail, 260-foot boardwalk with covered observation platform, three-mile kayak trail, and over five miles of hiking trails with four shade shelters strategically placed along the way. The facilities were partially paid for with a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Recreational Trails Program. Rick Mercer, former director of DEP’s Office of Operations, said, “It is so rewarding to see Palm Beach County residents and visitors alike enjoy Winding Waters Natural Area, which was designated into the Florida Greenways and Trails System, a program administered by the Office of Greenways and Trails, Division of Recreation and Parks. The Recreational Trails Program is honored to be a part of this partnership and congratulates Palm Beach County on the project.”


Short Takes

The East Coast Greenway Alliance has a new Florida website: http://flgreenway.org/.

Stay tuned for the Summer edition of Connections for an exciting article about WHEELS, a bike/walk/transit/trails event to be held in Miami in November.   

The 2015 Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant submission cycle will be open April 15 - 30.

National Trails Day is Saturday, June 6, and many events will be hosted by Florida State parks and the Florida Trails Association. Find out about these events and more through the online OGT Community Calendar.

Cross Florida Greenway Manager Mickey Thomason was selected as the Florida Bicycle Association Trail Manager of the Year. Congratulations Mickey!