Take a hike! Or eight … or 20
By YVETTE C. HAMMETT
Hillsborough County wants you to go take a hike. Maybe 20 hikes. At least eight.
Now that the weather has cooled down ever so slightly, it’s time to grab a pair of binoculars, throw on your hiking boots and hat — don’t forget the bug spray — and head out to one of 20 designated hiking trails during this year’s Hiking Spree.
This is the third year the county has sponsored the event, rewarding hikers who complete at least eight trails with a badge for their walking stick or a patch for their collection if they complete the walks by March 31, 2019.
County officials say the event is a great excuse to get into the outdoors, get a little exercise and explore some of the park and conservation lands taxpayers have funded.
Hiking Spree is free, so it’s easy to join in the adventure.
“We had over 5,200 people sign up to participate in the Hiking Spree last year,” said county Special Events coordinator Dana McDonald.
Lettuce Lake’s trails called Hammock Run and Boardwalk turned out to be the most popular trails last year, she said. “We highlighted two trails in that park to give people accessible options,” since not everyone can hike a long distance or on an unpaved trail.
Anyone can participate. There is no age limit and no physical restrictions. You don’t even have to be a Hillsborough County resident to join Hiking Spree. Visitors are welcome to participate.
“We still highlight 20 trails (including Hiker’s Choice),” McDonald said. “But we change out the trails each year to encourage people to discover new trails throughout Hillsborough County.”
Much of the property the trails are located on were purchased through a special tax. The popular program under which they were purchased is called the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, or ELAPP. Voters have overwhelmingly funded the program several times through the years.
This year’s newest addition is the Stephen J. Wortham Neighborhood Park in Riverview.
“Our teams created a new trail in this park for residents in the county to enjoy,” said McDonald, who added that she enjoys hiking there. “There was a smaller existing trail, but the teams went in and did multiple cleanups and removed natural barriers. This allowed for the 1 and one-half mile unpaved trail to be safe for the public.”
“It is a unique park that features elements of a neighborhood and conservation park,” she said. “You start out near a pond and a playground. As you get deeper into the trail you are surrounded by some beautiful conservation areas. It is amazing that all of this is literally in our backyard. There are some shaded parts, but it opens up into this expanse of pine flatwoods.”
When choosing the trails, the county team makes sure there is something for everyone.
“The neighborhood parks are for people that may not be familiar with hiking and would like an easier walk,” McDonald said. “These trails are typically accessible. As you get into the Conservation and the Preserve trails, you will see more nature around you.”
Here’s how Hiking Spree works: Between Nov. 1 and March 31, 2019, register and begin hiking. To register, go to www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/residents/recreation-and-culture/recreation/hiking-spree.
Hiking Spree works strictly on an honor system. Nobody monitors a hiker’s progress. Each of the designated trails is rated easy, moderate, or strenuous and classified all-purpose, basic, or primitive.
You can share your hiking adventures with the county and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter by using the hashtag #TakeAHikeHC.
Photos and videos are welcome. Go to www.HCFLGov.net/HikingSpree for details.