The Florida National Scenic Trail is more than 1,400 miles long, extends the length of the state, connects Florida wilderness areas and unique habitats, and provides low impact access to wildlife and amazing migrating birds. Launched in 1966, it is almost complete but there are still sections where thru hikers must use blazed roadwalks.
Now, thanks to 30 college students who are giving up their spring break to work on an SCA trail crew, and with generous support for this Alternative Spring Break from American Eagle Outfitters, there is now a trail where earlier this week there was only saw palmetto and other dense prickly vegetation.
Led by expert SCA field leaders, they’ve lopped and brushed, dug the top line, and cut the tread — in the heat, with mosquitos buzzing, but with some fun and a definite sense of satisfaction for a job going well, and quickly.
According to SCA’s Brian Doughty, it’s a dream trail project – level, dry, and soft – with ancient live oaks draped in Spanish moss to wind a gracious path around. And a dream team, who quickly learned the knack of deftly and safely using pick mattocks, loppers, pulaskis, trenching shovels, hack saws, and grubbers.
Why do they care and work so hard? One student her application essay, wrote, “It’s important to provide access to the beauty of the land.” Another suggested that getting people out on the land might convert them into being supporters of efforts to conserve and protect it. Another noted that trails limit impact and are an important element in conservation and preservation.
Cricket Wise of Charleston, SC, said of Tuesday’s work, “The coolest thing happened. We came up to a stand of thick brush and vines. I thought we’d never make it through and into a trail. But 15-20 minutes later with all of us working, there was a clear path.” She said this climbing up into the large white SCA van at the end of the day, hair plastered to her forehead, dirty, and happy.
Next up? Constructing a punchion boardwalk over a bog. Bring on those 8 lb sledge hammers for the rebar, the timber carriers for the sills, the tamping bars and hammers. Stay tuned for the next episode of Alternative Spring Break 2011. And, thank you, American Eagle Outfitters for making it possible!