Get Your Trek On

Polk County’s Trek Ten Trails Program an Easy Way to Explore Parks, Nature

by GRACE HIRDES

Are you looking for a great way to have some outdoor fun in Central Florida this fall? You don’t have to be an expert hiker or avid outdoorsman to take advantage of all that nature has to offer. That’s the message the Trek Ten Trails program hopes to hammer home. The free, web-based recreation program, which launched back in 2007, is intended to make nature more accessible in order to get families off the couch and out among the nature of Polk County’s many parks and nature preserves. 

“The program was inspired by the fact that Polk County had acquired several new conservation lands through a 1994 county environmental lands referendum,and many people were not aware that those preserves existed or were open to the public,” says Marian Ryan, president of Friends of the Park. 

“In addition, significant numbers of new residents have moved here from out of state and have no knowledge of the incredibly diverse ecosystems we have here.” 

How It Works 

Before you start your adventures, you’ll need to get a game card. They are available at all Polk County libraries, Circle B Bar Reserve, and online at friendsoftheparks.net/trek-ten-trails. Trekkers can choose trails to hike and then validate their game cards when they complete the trail. You can collect up to 10 different stamps on your game card by using the self-inking stamp in the geocache located along the trail. You can find instructions on how to find the geocache with or without a GPS on your trail factsheet. Once your game card is full, you can send it to Marian either through US postal service or via email to be eligible for a Certificate of Completion and a souvenir token at their Annual Celebration. Game cards are due by November 7.

The Annual Celebration will be held November 12. The celebration includes refreshments, Certificates of Completion, path tags, a guided hike, a Geocaching International Film Festival Reel, and a prize drawing. After the celebration, a new Trek Ten Trails cycle will begin.

For each trail cycle, Trek Ten Trails Coordinator Briana Boston and Ryan try to select trails that are spread out across the county as well as trails with different lengths. 

“We keep a trail in the program for two years and then replace them to keep the adventures fresh,” Ryan says. 

“All of our hikes include a geocache that can be found with or without GPS. Those are located about a half mile to a mile into each property so hikers get a good experience. We have had hikes on 43 different properties so far, all within Polk County.”

While each cycle highlights different trails with new geocaches, Ryan says hiking in the Green Swamp or in ancient scrub woods offers stunning seasonal highlights of flowers and colors. 

Trails include:

  • Circle Bar B Reserve for fabulous birding and more alligators than you can count
  • Crooked Lake Prairie, which is a refreshing excursion into habitats found on the high hills of the Lake Wales Ridge
  • Gator Creek Reserve, which is the perfect place for a dip into a corner of the Green Swamp 
  • Lakeland Highlands Scrub offers a close-up look at the Lakeland Ridge, an ancient island when Florida was beneath the seas
  • Saddle Creek Park, which has a 2.4-mile round-trip birding trail and a connector to Tenoroc
  • SUMICA, which is one of the natural lands in Polk County where birding is especially superb.

If you are wary of hiking alone or are new to the park or geocaching, Friends of the Park offers hosted hikes in the fall and spring of each year. Hosted hikes usually start at 9 a.m. For more info on the next hosted hike, contact Ryan at 863-207-5206 or  marianryan@gmail.com 

“Our hosted hikes have been especially popular with single hikers who might, rightfully so, be hesitant to hike alone in remote areas,” she says. “We were especially surprised to find that many homeschoolers use the program!”

You won’t regret getting out there, Ryan says. “Polk County has some of the most diverse ecosystems anywhere. Beauty, science, technology, and health can all merge in the outdoor experience. For children and adults alike, contact with nature is linked to better health, less stress, better mood, and reduced obesity – an amazing list of benefits that no other product can match. It can also result in hobbies that last a lifetime.” 

Learn more at friendsoftheparks.net/trek-ten-trails

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