Hillsborough County residents and visitors are stepping up to the challenge of getting outdoors, exercising, and exploring the variety of trails at local parks and conservation areas.
By mid-January, halfway through its five-month run, hundreds of people had registered for Hiking Spree, and many had taken hikes led by Hillsborough County staffers. Participating groups include Tampa Bay Outdoor Adventures, the Suncoast Chapter of the Florida Trail Association, Outdoor Afro, and Tampa Bay Adventures.
Here's how Hiking Spree works:
From Nov. 1 through March 31, people may walk any of 19 designated trails on their own, with friends, as part of a group, or with a member of the Parks & Recreation staff. There also is a wild-card hike of sorts: Hikers choose their own trail, which can be anywhere.
Hiking Spree works strictly on an honor system. Nobody monitors your progress. Each of the 19 designated trails is rated easy, moderate, or strenuous, and classified all-purpose, basic, or primitive.
Complete eight of the 20 hikes - the one of your own choosing counts - fill out a form, and receive a medallion to put on your walking stick, or an Access Hiker patch.
Parks & Recreation officials will accept completed forms at certain County parks or by mail. Click here for more details and a participation form that you can print.
Hiking Spree is a way for people to learn about Hillsborough County's extensive and diverse regional parks, preserves, and recreation centers. Some trails are at well-known regional parks such as Lettuce Lake, Upper Tampa Bay, and Lithia Springs. Others are at more obscure preserves - Alafia Scrub, Blackwater Creek, and Violet Cury. Those wanting a more leisurely walk will find neighborhood and recreation centers like Northdale, All People's, and Valrico included as well.
The trails are scattered throughout Hillsborough County. Hikers can walk paths near their homes but also are encouraged to explore new terrain. You will be surprised how remote some of the areas are.
Anyone may participate. There are no age or physical restrictions, and you don't have to be a Hillsborough County resident.
Hiking Spree is modeled on successful programs held elsewhere - most notably in Akron, Ohio. There, the Summit Metro Parks community hiking event began in 1964 and now draws some 12,000 participants annually.
Hillsborough County's inaugural series of hikes is a start to someday exceeding those numbers.
So get outside, explore a park, and earn an award. If the program catches on, Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation leaders will come up with a different set of trails for next year's Hiking Spree.