By Tamas Mondovics
With cooler temperatures most Floridians are giving their home and local public swimming pools a break, only to enjoy another outdoor treasure the region offers through its numerous parks, preserves and trails.
To experience nature, officials kicked off Hillsborough County’s second annual Hiking Spree program, which encourages people to exercise and explore the outdoors.
According to Todd Pratt with the county’s communications office last year nearly a thousand people participated in the event.
“Organizers hope to grow that number more in the second year, which features another set of 20 trails, each with their own challenges and rewards,” stated Pratt.
This year’s trail list features 20 hikes. Residents are challenged to complete at least eight between November 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018 and earn a patch, or a medallion for a walking stick. One of the hikes can be at a location of the participant’s choice that is not on the list.
County officials also emphasized that the trails are designed to offer something for everyone from hiking rookies to seasoned outdoor enthusiasts, with hikes rated from easy to strenuous.
Lengths of each hike can range from less than a mile to more than 4 miles. The environmentally diverse sites are spread throughout the county and include small parks like Eureka Springs Conservation Park, a 31-acre slice of plant-lovers paradise, to large preserves with multiple habitats like the 12,500-acre Lower Green Swamp nature Preserve.
The Hiking Spree is timed to take advantage of the cooler, drier weather and to coincide with prime bird-watching times.
To receive an annual medallion, hikers are to bring a completed form to one of the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Centers no later than March 31: All Peoples, Northdale, Roy Haynes, Jackson Springs, Westchase, Ruskin, Gardenville, Brandon, or the offices at Bell Creek Nature Preserve.
To receive a medallion by mail, participants can send a completed form with a stamped/self-addressed envelope to: HCPRD Hiking Spree; Bell Creek Regional Park Offices; 10940 McMullen Road, Riverview, FL 33569.
Participants are encouraged to post photos from their hikes using the hashtag #TakeAHikeHC.
For more information and to register, please visit www.HCFLGOV.net.