By Tamas Mondovics

Hillsborough County officials are hoping to lure residents out from the living rooms to the great outdoors and take a hike.

Advertised on its newly redesigned website, representatives of the County’s Parks and Recreation have unveiled a new program that they say encourages people to exercise, get out in the fresh air, and experience nature by exploring the numerous parks and preserves, including a Rolling Acres Fitness trail in Valrico, at 707 S. Miller Rd.

Appropriately named, The Hiking Spree, the program features 20 hikes and is supported by Friends of the County Parks, a nonprofit organization that started in 1988 to promote financial and community support to the County’s Parks and Recreation department.

After an online registration, residents who are able to complete at least eight of the hikes between November 1 and March 3 will receive a patch, or a medallion for a walking stick from the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation department.

“The Hiking Spree Program is designed to introduce people to the County’s varied parks and preserves,” said Todd Pratt with Hillsborough County Communications and Digital Media in a recent press release. “The trails are spread throughout the County so people can hike near home or explore new areas.”

Parks officials emphasized that the listed hikes range in length from less than half a mile to four miles and include such popular regional parks as Lettuce Lake, Upper Tampa Bay, and Lithia Springs.

Take advantage of the lesser-known scenic parks, such as Blackwater Creek and Alafia Scrub preserves, that are also on the list.

Each of the 20 trails in the Hiking Spree program is classified by rank and severity as A-All Purpose, B-Basic or C-Primitive; with the rating of 1-Easy, 2-Moderate, 3-Strenuous.

Participants are allowed to create one other trail of their choice and for the sake of safety are to dress appropriately and bring plenty of water.
Those who have completed at least eight hikes can turn in their forms at All People’s Life Center or locally at Brandon Recreation Center, 510 E. Sadie St. in Brandon and Gardenville Recreation Center, 6215 Symmes Rd. in Gibsonton.

Completed forms can also be mailed to: HCPRD Hiking Spree, All People’s Life Center, 6105 E. Sligh Ave., Tampa, FL 33617.