Friday, August 29, 2008

Joan Hobson on the Florida Trail

Some people mark milestones on certain birthdays. Joan Hobson marks miles. She marked her 75th birthday hiking the Florida Trail for the third time. The 1,200 mile trail from South Florida to the Panhandle is as wild in many areas as Florida was historically.

Hobson didn't fall in love with hiking until she was 62. She now totes a 25-pound backpack through the wilds of Florida and is inspired by its beauty. She is a great-grandmother of three, a retired psychiatric nurse and a wife of 53 years. Hobson averages 10 miles a day through prairies, pine forests and oak hammocks. She became an active trail volunteer after attending her first meeting of the Florida Trail Association, a volunteer organization that built and maintains the trail.

Besides logging over 5,000 miles on the trail which wends from Big Cypress National Preserve west of Miami to near Pensacola in the Panhandle, she has helped to clear brush and build foot-bridges.When not hiking on the trail, she leads day hikes and teaches others the finer points of backpacking.

The hurricanes have not been kind to the trail. Thousands of trees have been bent, broken and twisted in forest statewide.The winter season in Florida can be cold and wet. Walking faster, stoking the bodies furnace is sometimes the only relief to bone chilling wind.

Though Joan enjoys company, she's fine without it. "I don't mind being alone," she says. "I've gotten used to myself over the years." Besides, she occasionally runs into a "big daddy rattler."

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Florida Trail

The Amazon Outdoor Store
In the early 1960s, Jim Kern, a Miami resident, visited the Appalachian Trail for a backpacking trip and came back to Florida with a burning desire to create a long-distance hiking trail in his own backyard. Founding the Florida Trail Association to pursue that goal, Kern rounded up like-minded Floridians and set to work. The Florida Trail’s first blaze was painted in the Ocala National Forest near Clearwater Lake in October 1966.

Today, Kern’s original dream of a 500-mile long distance hiking trail has grown to a federally designated National Scenic Trail more than 1,400 miles across the state of Florida, with volunteers from all over Florida seeing to its maintenance, expansion, protection, and promotion. Their goal is to establish a continuous wilderness corridor in which a footpath enables hikers to enjoy Florida’s natural habitats. After 40 years, nearly 1,000 miles of “Florida’s Footpath Forever” lies within a protected corridor, connected by orange blazes along back roads where they have not yet been able to protect the corridor.

Hike the Florida Trail
Follow the orange blazes! The 1,400-mile Florida Trail is within an hour's drive of most Floridians, with trailheads along many major highways such as US 98, US 90, US 441, US 301, and more. Most people day hike on segments of the Florida Trail close to home. Backpackers and long distance hikers need to consider logistical issues before heading out on a longer hike, and for that, the Florida Trail Association has maps and guidebooks that can assist you in planning an enjoyable trip.