Wet Walk 101

by Allison Vincent

CREW Flint Pen Strand trail during the rainy season

Walk the seasonally wet trails of CREW for an education in watersheds! Join our education coordinator, Julie Motkowicz on any of the four upcoming Wet Walks – each at a different trail location. We’ll give you a list of what to wear and what to pack at the bottom of this, but first we want to go over a few “W’s”, such as why would I ever want to take a wet walk?

What is the appeal of a Wet Walk?

One of the many joys of a wet walk

Imagine hiking down a lazy river, one with pure nature surrounding you, shading you from the sun and cooling your calves with the fresh rainwater from the days before. Have a picture in your head? This genre of adventurous outings never gets old. Plus, it has a feeling of accomplishment, like reaching a summit, when you complete an out-of-your-comfort-zone wet walk, no matter how many times you’ve been in the swamp.

What about alligators, or worse, mosquitos?

While we can’t ever guarantee that you’ll have a mosquito-free hike, or never see an alligator sunning, we can guarantee that you are only on the menu for one of those top Florida predators’. So bring some bug spray just in case and try to enjoy the prehistoric majesty of our resident dinosaurs. They’ll leave you alone if you leave them alone.

What if you’re not ready to go it alone? 

School groups at CREW Marsh trails

The excitement of a wet walk is fanned in a group of like-minded enthusiasts and you can benefit from the interpretation of our guide and the comfort of camaraderie. This otherworldly feeling can be yours, all within a relatively short drive to one of the CREW trails this summer.

So, what should I expect, you ask? 

To get wet, for one! Verdant landscapes with bromeliads and various air plants, quiet soundscapes muted by water, and probably very few reptiles (sorry, not sorry). 

CREW trails wet walk tour

Lastly, what to wear and what to pack:

  • We recommend wearing old sneakers – always close-toed, as they drain and dry more quickly than hiking boots. However, if you are more comfortable in boots, that’s just fine. Steer clear of waders and tall water-proof boots, as the water inevitably finds its way over the ledge and they’re heavy. 
  • Long pants that dry quickly are going to be more comfortable than heavy pants or shorts. 
  • Long sleeve shirts will help protect your skin from brushing against plants and from the sun on the return journey when the rays are more harsh. 
  • Hat
  • walking stick – if you don’t have a walking stick we will provide one
  • camera in a waterproof bag
  • Pack enough water for the wet walk, sometimes splurging on a flavored electrolyte pouch in your water will save the day. 
  • Bring snacks too, in case you need a little pick-me-up to move those quads through the extra weight of the water. 
  • The rest is up to you! 

Time to get WET! Check out our tips for taking a walk in the water

During the winter, when the majority of our visitors frequent the CREW Project’s trails, our trail conditions are mainly dry with near-perfect weather each day.

But for those of us who live here year round, we see a completely different side of the trails, with pea-soup-thick humidity, daily afternoon thunderstorms and trails covered in water – the kind there is no tip-toeing around.

Taking that first step into the water can be unnerving. And asking other hikers can either be encouraging or a total nightmare when they send you links to videos of floating masses of fire ants.

(don’t go Google that. REALLY. Don’t. Just trust me.)

We reached out to some of our favorite wet-walk enthusiasts to you help get you prepared and hopefully inspired to take that first step, or dip, on the trails.

Why do you love wet walks?

I love the connection with the energy and life around me. It feels so much different and so much stranger when the water is swirling around my legs. I am in an intimate connection with the swamp. – Brenda Thomas, FGCU and former CREW Trust education coordinator

On a hot and humid summer day, the water is cool and refreshing. – Dick Brewer, CREW Trust volunteer naturalist

Summers are so hot and walking into the water is instantly refreshing. It’s much cooler than you think it will be. -Anne Reed, CREW Trust communications strategist

We might not have mountains in Florida to make you feel humble but a swamp walk sure can! -Jessi Drummond, CREW Trust education coordinator

I love wet walk because you get to see things you don’t see in the dry season and from a totally different perspective. -Janet Bunch, CREW Trust volunteer naturalist

What is one must-have item for wet walks/wet hikes?

A walking stick for balance and for estimating the depth of the water ahead. -Dick Brewer

I recommend long pants. If you are anxious about being in the water, something covering your legs can ease the anxiety. If the water is deep you will likely feel vegetation brushing against your legs and you won’t be able to see what it is. You’ll feel a bit more protected with a layer on your legs. -Brenda Thomas

The must-haves are a bottle of water and a change of clothing (underwear included) or a giant trash bag for the way home! -Janet Bunch

A walking stick. Pro tip – have a way to measure the depth of the water on your walking stick. -Jessi Drummond

Lightweight hiking pants. They don’t soak up the water and then dry relatively quickly. Oh, and make sure you can tuck them into your socks – I have had way too many pine needles creep up my pants during wet walks. -Anne Reed

What is one piece of advice or one tip you have for folks going on their first wet walk?

One important thing to remember about wet walks is to stand up straight. If you are leaning forward and you slip, you’ll go right down. A corollary to this is that you feel with your leading foot and don’t transfer your body weight until you are sure of your footing. Long pants and long sleeves will sae you from a lot of bug misery. -Janet Bunch

The water really isn’t as dirty as it looks, so don’t let the color intimidate you. It’s just brown because of the tannins in the leaves. -Jessi Drummond

Take turns being in front if you go with a group of people. It’s a lot like cycling – you can draft off the lead hiker so pushing the water with your legs doesn’t take as much energy. But if you are drafting, it’s only fair to take your time at the front too because pushing all of that water is hard work! -Anne Reed

Have a towel and a dry set of shoes, and possibly clothes, waiting in the car. -Dick Brewer

Take your time! You need to enjoy every moment you are in the water. Experience the connection and the enrgy and the emotion. Plus, the greatest risk in the water isn’t the things swimming in it – it is you tripping and falling, especially if there are cypress knees hiding under the surface. 

August 11th Wet Walk at CREW- Can you handle it?

Never been in a Florida swamp? Well this is your chance. Sign up today to join Jessi Drummond, our Environmental Education Specialist, on a wet walk through CREW’s Cypress Dome Trails on August 11th at 9am. To preregister for this hike click here.

wet popash slough 2013 square

On this hike enjoy the White Loop at the CREW Cypress Dome Trails and experience a magical, and beautiful place. This 3+ mile hike takes you deep into the woods on a narrow trail where barred owls perch and old, curvy palm trees reach for the sun. With no boardwalks, this trail lets you get your feet wet as you slog through the popash slough and then up into some of the most gorgeous pine flatwoods at CREW.

Bring plenty of water to drink, sun protection (sunscreen, hat, glasses), bug spray or long sleeves, camera/binoculars if you like, and be prepared to get wet (and muddy) up to your knees or even thighs, depending on how much rain we get this summer.

We’ll wrap up by noon. Feel free to bring a picnic lunch to eat at the pavilion or benches in the parking area afterwards.

To register click here.  CREW Members are current members of the CREW Land & Water Trust. General Public/Non-members may join CREW (and become eligible to take advantage of the member discount for this workshop) by going to https://crewtrus.mystagingwebsite.com and clicking on the DONATE button or by calling 239-657-2253.


Mom Shares Her Family’s First Wet Walk Experience at CREW

Keri Harty
Keri Harty

A guest post by CREW visitor Keri Harty:

Even though I was afraid, I put my big girl pants on and decided that I couldn’t let my children miss this cool opportunity to see this treasure in our SWFL backyard.

… I now have firsthand knowledge of why everyone says that the trails are a MUST-DO during the rainy season. It was a totally different experience…You have to see it to understand it.

Dear CREW,

Thanks so much for asking about our recent trip and wet walk to the Marsh Trails! (Or making sure that we made it out alive….LOL!)

Keri's kids, brother, and sister-in-law
Keri’s kids, brother, and sister-in-law

We had A BLAST!!! I went with my 10 year old daughter, my 8 year old son, and my brother and sister-in-law. I decided to do the wet walk because my niece who is a FGCU student recently did the wet walk with her class and thought it was awesome. We have visited both the Cypress Dome Trails and the Marsh Trails many times in the winter and spring and have had wonderful adventures, but I was assured by my niece that I was missing an amazing and different world out there by only visiting during “dry” season.

Even though I was afraid, I put my big girl pants on and decided that I couldn’t let my children miss this cool opportunity to see this treasure in our SWFL backyard. I was actually going to go to Bass Pro and buy some camo pants to get myself psyched, but I decided my old jean shorts would do. J As we arrived at the wet part near the observation tower, even my brother and sister-in-law – who are very well traveled – asked if I was sure that it was safe to enter the small trail through the grass and swamp water. While the water is semi-clear in most spots, the sea of tall grass looks so ominous! I was thinking “Children of the Corn” only gator style. LOL!

I have to admit that I was very nervous in the water past the observation deck, but my brave little 8 year old son led the way with his big walking stick clearing all the webs made on the morning dew from the friendly spider residents and watching for anything suspect. (He dreams of being a herpetologist or Everglades scientist or guide, so this was right up his alley.) Since this is the end of the wet season, the highest the water ever got was mid-thigh, but that was CHEST high on my son. Was I a coward for allowing my precious boy to lead me on this adventure? Yes! However, I presented it to him that it was his very first guide through the Marsh Trails and he stood tall and felt very important. Most importantly, he did a great job pointing out the flora and fauna!

Among many other creatures, we saw the most beautiful beetle. It was black and had a top so colorful and sparkly that it looked like a Mardi Gras parade participant. The hawks were screeching above our heads and the frogs were singing around our feet. We interrupted at least 4 different black racer snakes sunning themselves on the trails and it was my sister-in-law (not me) who almost stepped on one and screamed so loud that all the vultures in the trees flew for their lives. My daughter and son tried to revive a dying dragonfly and unfortunately were unsuccessful, but it was a good opportunity to discuss the “Circle of Life” and yes I did start singing the song to lessen their pain.

We found many different kinds of scat. Yes, we were excited about finding poop. Who wouldn’t be? Some we assumed was deer due to the plants in it and some we assumed was maybe bobcat. (It had a lot of hair in it 🙂

We also hiked the Popash Trail, which we had never done before, and that was really awesome as well. We really only went that far back into the trails to find the geocaches, but I am so glad that we did because it was just beautiful. Although, it is also a little scary because it is so remote and the trail so narrow. It was thrilling! As our feet left imprints in the jet black mud, we saw so many paw prints of recent animal trails. Of course we thought they were all bear and panther and estimated each animal to be at least 700 pounds in size, but I am sure most were much smaller. We DID however see human foot prints that looked like someone was walking barefooted. It was very strange. So of course that added to the thrill as we and the children concluded that it was either someone with those toe shoes on OR the Skunk Ape. LOL!

keri harty familyAnyway, I now have firsthand knowledge of why everyone says that the trails are a MUST-DO during the rainy season. It was a totally different experience. Especially in the hustle and bustle of our extremely hectic and busy lives, it was as if we stepped out of time into a magical world that only we were a part of. You have to see it to understand it. Every single student in our county should have the opportunity to visit this jewel. Thank you so much for your encouragement and information to make our visit out there a success. If you get reports of a 40-year-old woman running around the trails with her children wildly laughing, don’t worry, it is just the Harty family back for a visit.

~Keri Harty, October 2013

Note: Many FGCU “Environmental Biology of SWFL” and other classes come to CREW for field trips each semester. Kudos to their instructors for exposing them to the wonders of this amazing watershed and teaching about the important ecosystem services it provides to all of us here in SW Florida. And special kudos to Keri’s niece for encouraging Keri to bring her family out for a wet walk to experience CREW in a whole new way!

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