|Audrey, Mark, Jim, Brian geared up|
This January I set off with four Tropical Trekkers led by Jim Couillard on a five day adventure along 38 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Temperatures along the trail's northwest corridor coasted into the 80's which provided balmy hiking and cozy overnight camping conditions. The warm weather also served as a clear reminder that climate change is in play, the past ten years being the hottest decade on record globally.
|Puncheon Trail Traverse over Marshland|
The trail we took through Ocala National Forest ascended gradually into conifer forest before transitioning into sand pine scrub and saw palmetto. Further along, the trail flattened out, passing through freshwater marshes boasting cypress tree oases and mosquito swarms. Florida Trail Association (FTA) volunteers deserve kudos for the extensive puncheon bridges installed throughout the corridor, minimizing our group's need to traipse through swamp muck.
|Deer "Moss" and Ocala Deep Digger Beetle Mounds|
|Sand Pine Forest Grotto Likely After Recent Controlled Burn|
By and large the foliage was quite lush and full of life. We heard barred owls, encountered a gopher tortoise and spotted a panoply of insect-life including grasshoppers, butterflies, banana spiders and the aforementioned mosquitoes. We also found numerous mysterious, anthill-like mounds, which we discovered later to be the homes of the solitary Ocala Deep Digger Beetle. Tracks and scat further indicated the presence of bear, raccoon, and deer, welcome signs especially with the recent WWF reports that global fauna count is down a harrowing 60 percent over the past 50 years.
|Gopher Tortoise on a Stroll|
|Marshall Creek Swamp|
We finished our adventure hiking along the Cross Florida Greenway to Santos Campground. Busy highways encroached on our journey for that last leg, where abundant refuse littered the trail. Dumping has been reported by Ocala Rangers to be up 22 percent since 2016, further reminding us of the ongoing role citizens must play to maintain our parks and preserves. Our group did our part, collecting several bags of trash along the way.
|Hammock Site and Hammocker|
In the end, our five-day backpack was an amazing Florida adventure that instilled comradery, physical challenge and enjoyment on the trail. It also served as a pointed lesson in planetary stewardship. Only with continued vigilance through organizations like the FTA and society in general can we hope to preserve wilderness resources for centuries to come.
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