Friday, September 26, 2014

2014 Hunting Season

Florida Trail near Pat's Island, Ocala National Forest
In Florida, hiking and hunting seasons share the same time period.  This can make some backpacking and hiking interesting, at least in scheduling times to quietly and safely pass through most trails in Florida without spooking game, angering hunters or spoiling their shots.
Florida Trail Hiking Vest
Blaze orange is the "in" color during this time of the year, and when hiking or backpacking, it should be worn where it can be seen from ALL directions around you.  All Florida National Forests and most state lands are open for hunting.
There are some areas in the Sunshine state where you can backpack during hunting season.  I reviewed them in this blog in 2013, and to my knowledge, these areas are still hunt-free.
My opinion is to avoid backpacking during hunting season weekends, to camp only in designated campsites then and to wear blaze orange.
The 2014 Hunting Season dates for Florida are:
General Gun Season Zones B & C for deer run from 12/06/14 to 02/22/15.
Muzzle-loader, Bow or Crossbow for deer run from 09/13/14 to 12/05/14.
Turkey hunters hunt from 9/13/14 to 02/01/15 for bows through guns.
Quail & Squirrel run from now through 03/01/15.
Spring Turkey season runs from 02/28/15 to 05/26/15.
The online dates are posted online at for details.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Autumn Backpacking Along The Florida Trail

Sandra Friend's awesome trail guide
One of Florida's best kept secrets is backpacking in the wintertime.  When cold and snow drives everyone up north indoors, the Florida skies turn clear and blue, and the trails beckon.  Mosquitos and the other bugs also die down.
The section of the Florida Trail I plan to backpack runs through the Ocala National Forest, from Clearwater Lake to Salt Springs.  This 46.5 mile trail covers much of the varied Florida landscapes and provides many good camping and scenic opportunities along the way.
The original blazes along the Florida Trail were first painted at Clearwater Lake in 1966 by FTA Founder Jim Kerns and his hardy friends.  Of the 72 miles of non-stop backpacking within the Ocala National Forest, these southerly 46 miles are well marked, well maintained and well worn.  There are numerous bail-out points if needed along the route.  You will walk through thick palm trees in hydric hammocks, through the desert-like Juniper Prairie Wilderness, through open under story in tall pines and along the winding hills of the Hopkins Prairie.
Temperatures would be mild and cool at nights with little rain forecast.  By travelling ultralight, my pack would weigh around 25 pounds for the trip.
I will use the excellent Florida Trail Official Hiking Guide by Sandra Friend as my bible to plan and follow the route.  I plan to hike through this section (section 16) of forest in 4-5 days.  My expectation is to travel about 15 miles daily and to camp at specific sites along the trail.  I will check with my friends to see if we can create a trip together at that time, and if not I may hike solo.
Wish me luck in planning my trip over the next few weeks.  Some hunting dates may present scheduling problems as I would prefer not to backpack when people are hunting.  I am hoping to schedule my trip sometime during early December.  I'll post Florida hunting dates next week.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Jim Kern

Jim Kern
The Florida Trail is just one organization started by Jim Kern, a Florida resident, a photographer & filmmaker and real estate developer.  Jim came up with the idea of the Florida Trail after hiking on the Appalachian Trail.  "Why doesn't Florida have a trail like this?" was his question.  Aside from the high elevations which the mountainous states all have, Florida has a lot of scenic wonder, sometimes whole ecosystems pop up in only one inch or two of elevation.
So Jim went around, and asked his question and didn't take no for an answer.  He created the Florida Trail Association and served as its president the first dozen years.  Those orange blazes were first painted on trees marking the Florida Trail at Clearwater Lake campground in the Ocala National Forest in 1966.  Part of these trails you hike today were first surveyed and cut through the woods by Jim's friends and partners in the Florida Trail.  His organization has grown over the years to include many members, volunteers and supporters (yes, even trail angels) all over the state.  Nearly 150 people attempt a through-hike annually, hiking during the winter months, moving north with spring.
Jim's first Florida backpack trip was a 12-day slog through unmarked wilderness from the Tamiami Trail to Highlands Hammock near Sebring.  His publicized trip heightened the real need for a Florida Trail, hiking through waist-deep water, swatting flies and mosquitos just like the rest of us.
Jim Kern also created the American Hiking Society giving a national voice to hikers and backpackers in 1976, and Big City Mountaineers to mentor urban youth in the outdoors, and his newest development, the Hiker's Grand Slam.
What I like about Jim Kern is that he followed through with an idea he had until it actually happened. An Eagle Scout, Jim showed the courage to create what he felt was important.  He lived his dream and in doing so created so many other dreams for the rest of us.  That's a character trait I truly admire.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Rocks In My Backpack

Rocks in my Backpack - Tom Sholes
My friends Nick and Mary from Colorado recently presented me with a small gift, the book by Scoutmaster-extraordinaire, Tom Sholes, Rocks in my Backpack.
Aside from the pranks with rocks the Boy Scouts played on their Scoutmaster, this book is hilarious, and was a fun and quick read.
Tom Sholes, an Eagle Scout from a small-town in Minnesota, moved to Colorado in the early 1960's and was asked (tricked?) into leading a small troop of Boy Scouts. Something about leading a previously experienced Scoutmaster into a 'Troop that has no Scoutmaster' was the catalyst.
This Troop 117 became a powerhouse of great scouts with high adventure trips monthly into the Rocky Mountains for almost 3 decades.  If you made Eagle Scout here, you sincerely earned it.  Even First Class rank had a test (not one in the Scouting manual) that was difficult, yet it challenged generations of boys to do better instead of slipping by half-involved.  As a Boy Scout, you actually felt pride from earning rank as opposed to getting rank advancement without working for it.
This Troop 117 actually climbed 14-ers to the peak, backpacked serious back country and wilderness area trails, canoed white water, followed the ancients in the canyons of the southwest, survived and thrived in snow/ice/cold Klonderees in Colorado's winter mountains.  If you were a backpacker, this was the troop to be in.
The boys Indian-danced with authentic costumes and face paint throughout the state with their prize-winning group the Wasechie Dancers, honoring and respecting the Lakota and Plains Indian history and culture with dance and ceremony.  The boys made their own costumes after careful study.
They also held backcountry and cross country skiing trips with girl scouts, which was unheard of in the 1970's.
On many backwoods trips, someone would get cut, caught, stuck or hurt in some way (as they always do), and the Boy Scouts would just take over, manage the emergency, heal the wounded, rescue the trapped, and would pitch in to help anyone needing help.  Now THAT was what was intended by Boy Scouting, to transform boys into leaders, who didn't really need any adult supervision or yelling at them to do something.
And that is what made Tom Sholes such an awesome leader in Scouting, and what makes a fine book for ex-Scouters, backpackers, river-runners, and outdoors people of all walks of life.  You will laugh, cry, become excited during the trail descriptions and canoeing, and find again that great love of the outdoors.  Thank you Tom!