The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition is crossing the state to bring attention to Florida's wilderness and the need to connect it all. Expedition members Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, Joe Guthrie and Carlton Ward recently met up with several dozen friends and fellow environmentalists in their first "trail mixer" along the Withlacoochee River.
The boaters set out from Silver Lake, on the Hernando-Sumter county line, and launched directly under an I-75 overpass. It may have seemed like an odd location for a wilderness expedition, but organizer Dimmitt said that's typical of Florida's wild areas.
"The first thing today, we're passing right under Interstate 75. It's amazing how you can feel like you way out there, but only an hour away and so close to everything. We keep saying, so much of the Florida wildlife corridor is hiding in plain sight of all Floridians."
Bob Bendick, the Gulf of Mexico director of the Nature Conservancy, was paddling with the group. To Bendick, a lot is riding on this expedition.
"The jury is still out on the future of Florida's environment," he said. "That's why this expedition is so important, because the key to saving natural Florida is to connect these corridors."
Bendick says he's hopeful that the expedition will capture the imagination of people across the state. He said the river illustrates what is at stake. "This is a beautiful floodplain forest," he said, "a lot of which has been lost, and there's so little of the old growth cypress left. You can see the ghosts of the old trees lying on the forest, but a lot of new trees coming up. In a hundred years, it will again be a beautiful cypress forest unique to this part of the country."