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Posted April 7, 2017 | 4:51 PM

Hiking Spree's First Act a Home Run

More than 1,000 people enjoy treks on Hillsborough County trails

The County's first Hiking Spree outpaced expectations.

Conceived as an incentive for people to exercise and explore Hillsborough County parks, preserves, and recreation sites, the program grew rapidly as word spread. The Hiking Spree began in November, and sign-ups ended March 31, though registrants may keep walking any of the 19 listed trails in pursuit of a medallion to put on their hiking stick, or an Access Hiker patch.

Hikers who complete eight hikes - seven of the listed trails and one hike of their own choosing - receive an award. An honor system applies. Nobody monitors hikers' progress.

Organizers hoped 1,000 people would participate. Between individual and group hikers, they exceeded that number. The program was so successful it will be an annual event, with the next Hiking Spree beginning this fall with a largely new list of trails.

Participants walk trails in regional parks such as Lettuce Lake, Upper Tampa Bay, and Lithia Springs. They traverse preserves like Alafia Scrub, Blackwater Creek, and Violet Cury. More leisurely walks are on the list, too, including hikes at neighborhood and recreation complexes such as Northdale, All People's, and Valrico.

The trails are scattered throughout the county. Hikers are encouraged to explore new terrain, not just paths near their homes.

The program is free. A few of the trails are in the County's regional parks, which have a $2-per-vehicle entry fee unless a participant has an annual pass.

Janis Copeland and Cornell Lewis earned medallions for walking eight trails, and the friends plan to complete all of the trails on this year's list. "We've discovered all these beautiful places," Janis says.

Janis and Cornell praise the Hiking Spree as a great way to exercise, see new places, talk, and meet people. Their favorite trail? Lake Rogers Park, on Mobley Road. Janis also relishes any path that winds past a quiet stream or pond, especially if there's a bench nearby.

Photo Information: Cornell Lewis and Janis Copeland at Upper Tampa Bay Trail.