One of the nicest aspects of living in Florida is the ability to be outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer most of the year. For residents of the River Hills community located in Valrico, there is a 250-acre preserve known as the Trails of River Hills. The trails are a natural gem and a sight to behold. There are six color-coded trails measuring over four miles in length.
The preserve and a small trail date back to when River Hills was established over 30 years ago. Two years ago, a group of ambitious residents rediscovered the trails and set out to clear them and make them accessible for the adventurous.
Fast-forward to today and now the trails are a pure delight complete with numerous boardwalks, 15 handmade benches, viewing platforms and 10 fitness stations.
The trails are a true escape. As you venture through, you see the Alafia River, both large and small; a 300 to 400-year-old cypress known as MOAC (Mother of All Cypresses); native palms and pine trees; and the occasional inhabitant, including the zebra longwing (the official butterfly of the state of Florida).
On a recent Tuesday, I was treated to a personal tour guided by Trail Lead Paul Worsfold, whose family has resided in River Hills for 20 years. We hiked the Orange Trail, which, according to Worsfold, is the most popular and is also known as the educational trail. It is complete with wooden signs that contain fun facts about the area, foliage and even water levels. During the rainy season, parts of the trail are impassable due to the water level of the Alafia River.
Volunteers gather almost every weekend to clean up the trails and work on improvements such as boardwalks. In addition, they offer monthly events such as hunting for fossils, plant identification in March, animal identification in April and a crafts class featuring wood burning in May.
If you venture onto the trails, you need not worry about getting lost as there are over 1,000 color-coded trail markers.
To keep up on all that is planned for the trails, you can join a Facebook group called Trails of River Hills. There you can find posts about upcoming events as well as volunteer opportunities for which students can earn hours for Bright Futures Scholarships.