Tag Archives: Florida National Scenic Trail

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Video: Bradwell Bay Wilderness Hike- Night and Day

Watch and listen: what does a Wilderness sound like at night?

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

P1060490-SmallerIt seems like a good premise for a movie: Under a full moon, on Friday the thirteenth, a group of people wander in the Wilderness. You could be a part of this movie on Friday, June 13 (8 pm), as Haven Cook of the U.S. Forest Service leads a hike into the Bradwell Bay Wilderness. It’s one of a series of events being held in the Apalachicola National Forest to celebrate 50 years of the Wilderness Act. Passed in 1964, the act designated certain protected areas as Wilderness.

So how is a Wilderness any different than any other protected land? We are surrounded by the Apalachicola National Forest, St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, Wildlife Management Areas, state parks, and large greenways. There are some waterways near here where you could spend hours and not see many signs of civilization. It’s already plenty wild around here, right?

A Wilderness area restricts the use of motorized or mechanical equipment. Not even a bicycle or, as the sign at the trailhead states, a hang glider (the WFSU hang glider was sadly left behind in our vehicle). No structures can be placed on the grounds, though any that were historically found there can remain. It has to, as the act states, retain “its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation.” Section 2(c) of the 1964 Wilderness Act. The primary force affecting the Wilderness must be nature, not man. The idea is that you can go there and experience total solitude in nature, and that means freedom from the buzz of a chainsaw or seeing that glider over your head.

The primary man made feature of the Bradwell Bay Wilderness is the unpaved trail that runs through it. In the pine flatwood area leading up to the swamp, it was an old road that Haven believes might have led to an homestead, likely belonging to the Bradwell family. It has a ditch running along either side of it, where you can occasionally see pitcher plants growing (as we learned a few weeks ago in another part of the Apalachicola National Forest, carnivorous plants love ditches and their found-in-nature equivalents). There is an old bridge that takes you over a small creek that drains into the Sopchoppy River. While they won’t put any forest roads through the Wilderness (its boundaries are formed by forest roads), the trail is maintained as a part of the Florida National Scenic Trail. In places, that doesn’t mean much more than an orange blaze on a tree.

Some Wilderness areas don’t even have that level of human footprint. The Mud Swamp/ New River Wilderness, also in the National Forest, is one. In general, Wilderness areas in the Eastern United States tend to be smaller and less isolated than in the less populous Western half of the country. In 1975, congress passed the Eastern Wilderness Act, which created the Bradwell Bay Wilderness. This act acknowledges that “additional areas of wilderness in the more populous eastern half of the United States are increasingly threatened by the pressure of a growing and more mobile population, large-scale industrial and economic growth, and development and uses inconsistent with the protection, maintenance, and enhancement of the areas’ wilderness character.” Section 2(a)(3) of the Eastern Wilderness Act.

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Often in the Forest, you’ll see these burnt woody shrubs among the palmettos between the pines. Longleaf and slash pine can tolerate fire and palmettos grow back, but hardwood trees do not fare well in this ecosystem.

It should also be noted that, though the area is intended to be as much as possible like it was when this country was founded, the pine flatwood area is a second growth forest where you can still see rows of planted slash pine. Like many of the places that we consider wild around here, it had been cut at some point. It is, like the rest of the forest, maintained by prescribed fire. This is to replicate the fire regime that occurred naturally before the area was settled by Americans. Since the Wilderness won’t burn every three to four years without assistance, The Forest Service keeps the “primeval” character of the area by simulating the regime that had occurred there.

We didn’t make it to the swamp, as we were previewing the full moon hike, though a little earlier to get more shots in the light. We’ll have to save that for another EcoAdventure. If you’re going on June 13, the sun will set within the first hour of the hike, and there will be mosquitos. And also ticks. This isn’t out of the ordinary for a hike at this time of the year. But when the moon comes out, you’ll see the Wilderness entirely differently. More strikingly, it will sound different. And, you know, there’ll be that slasher movie plot thing happening.

Coming Up

One value of the Bradwell Bay Wilderness is that, without motorized vehicles or human made structures, the stormwater runoff flowing from it to the Sopchoppy River is clean. We spend a lot of time on our EcoAdventures visiting well preserved, healthy land and water resources. On our last EcoAdventure of the season, we’re going to visit some places where you don’t want to touch the water or eat fish from it. We’re talking drinking water (which is clean) and stormwater. Wait until you see the bodies of water that collect our runoff.

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Pools of standing water and ground covered with leaves.  It's spectacular to look at, but the Aucilla Sinks are home to multitudes of insects and other critters, like pygmy rattlers.

New Video: The Florida Trail at Aucilla Sinks

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150

Winter came and went; only it seems to not have ever really arrived.  Hiking is an activity best enjoyed during the cooler months, when there are less biting insects on the trails.  We shot this segment at what should have been the end of hiking season, at the end of March.  What we found on the Aucilla Sinks segment of the Florida National Scenic Trail, however, were Summer temperatures, unrelenting mosquitos, and scores of white spotted ticks- the ones that carry the nasty stuff.  You know what, though?  We still had fun.

Pools of water and ground covered with leaves. It’s spectacular to look at, but the Aucilla Sinks are home to multitudes of insects and other critters, like pygmy rattlers.

If you wanted to explore hiking trails in the warmer months, you could very well still enjoy yourself.  You just have to be prepared and know what to expect.  The first thing I’ll mention- and I always mention it- is to bring water.  Bring a couple of bottles.  If you’re going on a long hike under a hot sun, you’re taxing your body.  So drink plenty of water.

The next thing you have to worry about is mosquitos, gnats, yellow flies, and all the other fun stuff that flies and bites.  Bites can be uncomfortable, and there is always the risk of catching encephalitis.  I first tied to combat them with a mild, nontoxic bug spray that my wife bought for our son.  It’s the kind of spray that works fine for the bugs you might encounter on a neighborhood stroll, but it was entirely ineffective against the swarms at the sinks.  I had entered the day dead-set against using a spray that contained Deet, but that was all that worked that day.  It lasted an hour or two before we had to reapply.  It is possible to apply too much Deet, so be careful.  If anyone has another solution, please share in the comments section.  Covering as much of your body as possible helps, just make sure you’re using a lightweight synthetic fabric.

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Kent Wimmer, Director of Programs and Policy for the Florida Trail Association.

And lastly, some pests attack not from the sky but from the ground.  I’m talking about ticks.  They’re nasty, and it is no fun to pull them from your skin once they’ve latched on.  Before we started our hike, Gary Hudson (who you see in the video) tucked his pants into his socks.  It’s not fashionable, but it works.  Kent Wimmer, our hike leader, wore gaiters, which were designed to keep snow and mud out of your boots while hiking.  What Kent and Gary both did was to prevent easy access inside their clothes to the ticks.  Kent took the additional precaution of sprinkling sulfur powder on his gaiters as a further deterrent.  Light colored pants and shoes will let you see if there are ticks crawling on you.

These are just a few tips I gathered from our hike that day.  Feel free to add your own tips in the comments section below.

Want to see more of the Florida Trail?  Watch our previous segment on the Trail, where we visit the Sopchoppy River section as well as the Cathedral of Palms and Shephard Spring in the Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  And if that isn’t enough Refuge for you, we explore it more fully in our next EcoAdventure airing in May.

The video features music by Pitx and Bruce H. McCosar.