Volunteer Perspective Series
by Nan Mattingly
Does your family have cabin fever?
The CREW Land & Water Trust has a solution – four trail systems that offer you and your family a chance to get outside and get a breath of fresh air while staying safe from the coronavirus. Granted, the Florida summer is hot and you may get your feet wet, but we promise it’s worth it! Here are some tips to keep you and your family safe and healthy and hints about what you might see.
Before you go:
— Choose your destination: check out CREWtrust.org for descriptions and locations of all four trail systems. Each one is unique. Pick the one that suits your family best. Study the trail maps and plan your hike using the mileage indicated for each trail.
— Fill your backpacks: each hiker should have a backpack with water, a snack, a face covering, and a safety device like a whistle. Kids can make their own personal alarms in the form of a “wildlife shaker” – an empty can filled with a few coins or pebbles and sealed with tape.
— Gather items for the group: sunscreen, extra water, bug repellant, binoculars, and maybe even a picnic lunch. A cell phone is handy for taking photos and is also good to have in case of emergency. Bring a trash bag so you can carry out leftover food and trash. Leave no trace of your presence on the trails.
— Dress like a pro hiker: everyone should wear close-toed shoes, a hat and long pants. If it’s been raining, trails are sure to be wet, so old tennis shoes make the best footwear.
— Plan your departure time: in the summer heat, you might want to kick off early, or you could wait till the heat loses its intensity around 4:00 p.m. All trail systems are open from dawn to dusk. Check the weather just before you leave home and reschedule if lightning is predicted.
At the trailhead:
— Take a minute to scan the kiosks at each trail system – you might find some useful information.
— Take a photo of the trail map on the kiosk or pick up a copy of the trail map from the brochure rack.
— Take advantage of the porta-potties at the trailhead since there are no facilities on the trails. Pro tip – bring a small roll (without the cardboard) for emergencies.
On the trail:
— Walk slowly and use all your senses. Big things like trees, marshes, larger birds such as herons, vultures, hawks, otters, rabbits, etc. are easily spotted but take time to look for smaller things like butterflies, spiders, grasshoppers, and dragonflies. Note their unique characteristics and colors as well as their behaviors. Birds are most active in the early morning and late afternoon.
— The CREW project is home to larger animals, too, but you’re very unlikely to encounter any of them on the trail. Most of them avoid intruders (that’s you) in their habitats. You might see the flash of a white tailed deer running away from you. If you get to see any of these elusive larger animals, consider yourself lucky!
— Picking flowers, seeds and plants is not allowed. Take a picture instead and use your photos to identify interesting things you’ve seen.
— A special note about CREW Bird Rookery Swamp: this unique habitat, an old cypress logging swamp, is home to many alligators. Occasionally gators sun themselves on the trails or along the sides of trails. Be alert and don’t feed them or do anything to provoke them. Use good judgment and turn around if necessary. Walking dogs here is not recommended.
A note to parents: you’re the hike leader. Keep a close eye on your group and make sure everyone stays in the middle of the trail (fire ants live on the edges). Teach your hikers good trail manners – courtesy to other hikers and consideration for wildlife. For example, wildlife shakers or whistles should be used only in case of a real emergency because the noise will upset the inhabitants of the woods.
During this pandemic, we’re all safer outdoors than inside but we still have to observe good health practices. Everyone in your group should have a face covering, and they should be worn when you encounter others on the trail. Maintain a safe distance (at least six feet) from hikers not in your group. When other hikers are walking toward you on the trail, have your group move to one side of the trail to help maintain an appropriate distance. Follow local guidelines and check to make sure the trails are open before you go.
Despite the heat, this is a great time to get acquainted with CREW trails and banish that cabin fever!