Florida Trail Association offers education, recreation at annual conference
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 6:05 p.m.
The Florida Trail Association hosts its 44th annual conference beginning Friday with environmental education and recreation events planned for Saturday.
If you go
The conference, which is open to the public, begins at 2 p.m. at the YMCA Camp McConnell near Lake Wauberg.
The Florida Trail Association builds and maintains the Florida Trail — a network of 1,500 miles of hiking trails that stretches from Naples to Pensacola and includes the Florida National Scenic Trail, which runs from Big Cypress National Preserve to Gulf Island National Seashore.
"The (Florida Trail Association) has to have an annual meeting," said Deb Blick, a trail resource coordinator. "So we have the traditional meeting, then we build a conference around it."
Blick said the conference will offer more than 30 activities, including day hikes to local trails, seminars on buying a kayak or tutorials on setting up hammocks.
For nature lovers, "it's right up their alley," Blick said. "And there's something for everyone."
The Florida Trail Association has held its conference in rural areas throughout the state in years past, but this is the first time the event is being held in Micanopy, Blick said. Last year, the event took place in Jupiter, which hampered attendance, she said. Conference attendance ranges between 125 to 350 people.
Micanopy was selected for its centralized location, accessible to members and non-members throughout the state, and its proximity to popular nature attractions, including Cross Creek, Barr Hammock and Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Blick said.
Holding the event at YMCA's Camp McConnell gives the attendees a chance to spend the weekend at the camp.
"I think not enough people know about everything we have," she said.
Six on-site and six off-site hikes are planned beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, with afternoon events starting at 1 p.m. Blick said people should plan to arrive an hour earlier.
"And if people don't want to go off-site, they can participate in archery at the camp or go to an excursion at The Butterfly Rainforest," Blick said.
The registration fee is $40 per person and includes most activities. Some activities, like the excursion to The Butterfly Rainforest, have additional fees attached, Blick said.
Conference speakers include FTA President Carlos Schomaker and keynote speaker Greg Stephens, a renowned nature photographer.
"We have all kinds of interpretive nature walks," Blick said. "We've got the state represented with Paynes Prairie and Cross Creek, and we're doing a tour of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park and historic walks in Micanopy."
The experience, ultimately, is about communing with the outdoors, said Blick, who moved to Florida in 1982 and immediately began volunteering with the Florida Trail Association. In the 1990s, Blick hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and has a trail name — Cricket — which is a common way to identify long-distance hikers, she said.
Judy Trotta, who has been with the Florida Trail Association since 1983, said the annual conference is one of her favorite times of the year.
"You go out on a hike and you meet someone and they end up being your best friend ... like Deb!" she said.
Trotta is a local representative for the Florida Trail Association's Cracker Chapter, which includes the Alachua, Marion, Gilchrist and Levy county areas.
She calls herself a "back-country hiker."
"I just backpack as far as I need to be in a remote, middle-of-the-wilderness place," Trotta said.
Over the weekend, Trotta will lead hikes through the Prairie Creek Preserve and Barr Hammock.
"Not only is it going to give new enthusiasts the chance to meet folks," she said, "it's going to put them in nature — and that's the wonderful part."