By Hayley Fedor
On the south side of the River Hills property lies 200-plus acres of woodland preserve that run right up to the Alafia River, which for many years went untouched and unexplored, until a group of residents cracked open the natural oasis.
The project began around January 20, 2020 after River Hills resident Stefan Smith and his kids went out to the nature preserve to explore the woods in an attempt to reach the Alafia River. From that point on, more community members began to get involved in the excursion and started developing trails, given the extra time that everyone had as a result of the pandemic.
At first, the ‘Trail Team,’ as they call it, which is comprised of about 10 residents heavily involved in the trails’ development, took to the woods with machetes and weed whackers to start clearing the way for paths. After the initial brush removal, the team started surveying the land to create a more wholesome design for the trails.
“We just started openly really brainstorming from whatever was in our imagination about having a few different types of trails that have maybe different personalities,” said Sean Troyer, a resident of River Hills and one of the primary developers of the trails.
There are over four miles of trails with entrances at different areas in River Hills and six different trail paths that all have a unique character to them, including an extremely primitive trail for the more adventurous hikers.
“I think our initial crew is also kind of cool … we came together and one of our guys is a geologist, an engineer, I do data analytics … it was a mixed bag of skills,” said Smith.
Much of the initial funding came from the community members, themselves fueled by a passion for the project and a motivation to build a quality experience on the trails. Later, as the project grew in size, the HOA board stepped in to offer extra funding. Now, the team has received a grant from Hillsborough County Neighborhood Relations to build a fitness track with features such as pull-up bars and sit-up stations.
“We wanted to ensure that this is going to be enduring and stay here for a long time, so we’ve always had that in the back of our minds,” said Troyer.
Currently, the Trail Team is working towards producing informational plaques with QR codes to provide hikers with fun and educational facts about the nature around them while on the trails. Please visit www.trailsrh.com for additional information.