By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Following last year’s record-breaking participation, Hillsborough County officials again are offering an annual Hiking Spree designed to nudge residents and visitors to take “a solo trip into the tranquility of nature.”
That’s how the Hillsborough County Annual Hiking Spree, launched in 2016, was described last year, having hit at a time when residents, for the most part, were quarantined and cooped up for most of the year, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
With positivity rates down and hopes rising that perhaps there will be no additional spikes and emerging variants, business goes on as usual for the hiking spree, which aims to encourage people to “exercise, explore the outdoors and experience nature through the numerous parks and preserves in Hillsborough County.”
According to county officials, more than 5,500 people registered for last year’s hiking spree, having “grown in popularity every year, drawing thousands of participants.”
The list for this year’s hiking spree features 26 trails at 22 locations, including Little Manatee River State Park in Wimauma; Alafia River State Park in Lithia; Hillsborough State River Park in Thonotosassa; and, for the first time on the list, the preserve at the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach.
Participants who complete at least eight trails on the list between Nov. 1 and March 31 earn a patch, a medallion for a walking stick or a dog bandana. Hikers can repeat any trail twice for credit, as long at the hikes occur on different dates. Also, one of the eight hikes can be at a Hillsborough County location not on the list.
The hiking spree is timed annually to coincide with cooler, drier weather and with prime bird-watching season. Trails rated as “easy,” “moderate” or “strenuous” aim to address a wide variety of interests and capabilities, “from hiking rookies to seasoned outdoor enthusiasts.”
Moreover, county officials say, “the environmentally diverse sites are spread throughout the county and range from neighborhood parks like Northdale Park and Recreation Center [in Tampa] to large preserves with multiple habitats, like Edward Medard Conservation Park [in Plant City].”
Along with the four state parks on the hiking spree list, there are seven neighborhood parks and recreation centers (featuring short, paved trails with water and facilities), five conservation parks (featuring mid-range, well-maintained paths and trails) and three nature preserves (featuring no facilities and subject to daily conditions).
Along with Northdale, the seven neighborhood parks are Boyette Springs Park in Riverview, Stephen J. Wortham Park in Riverview, Rodney Colson Park in Seffner, Bertha and Tony Saladino Park in Brandon, Ed Radice Sports Complex in Westchase and All Peoples Life Center in Tampa.
Along with Edward Medard, the conservation parks on the list are Alderman’s Ford in Lithia, Lake Conservation in Lutz, Lettuce Lake in Tampa and Upper Tampa Bay in Tampa.
The six nature preserves on the list are Bahia Beach in Ruskin, Bell Creek in Riverview, Blackwater Creek in Plant City, Lake Frances in Odessa, Lower Green Swamp in Plant City and the Alafia River Corridor South Preserve in Lithia.
Hike spree participants can hike on their own, with a group or through hikes guided by Hillsborough County parks employees. There is no cost to register, but some sites have entrance and parking fees.
To register and download the 2022 Hiking Spree printable trail list, visit www.HCFLGov.net and search for “hiking spree.”