Back in 2012, four explorers spent 100 days walking and kayaking 1,000 miles up the length of Florida, from the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. The mission – to publicize the need to connect the state’s remaining wild areas. This year, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition is back.
Three of the members of the first expedition have reunited. This time, they're starting in Central Florida, hanging a left through the Green Swamp and the Nature Coast along the Gulf of Mexico. They'll kayak, bike and hike through swamps with names as evocative as Tate's Hell, Monkey Creek and Bloody Bluff. They'll end 70 days later in the Panhandle, at the Alabama state line.
Expeditioner Joe Guthrie says the recent passage of Amendment one gives added impetus to their mission.
"We feel encouraged at the expedition that this is our opportunity to really put a stamp on Amendment One as coming from a vast majority of Floridians that we want to do land and water conservation and that we have the plan - we have the "greenprint," if you will - in place and its ready to be done, and it should be done," he told the crowd at the kickoff at Creek Ranch, along Lake Hatchineha in Polk County.
They were greeted at their kickoff a by dozens of well-wishers, along with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
"What is so important is that we preserve that past," Nelson said. "That flora, that fauna, those traditions, that legacy, all of which we are celebrating in the beginning of this next adventure, this time to the north, then the northwest and then to the west."
Nelson says it's efforts like the wildlife corridor expedition that places a value on preserving what's left of natural Florida.
"And so you are all starting to add to that today - added value - as you create these wildlife corridors so that future generations will be able to understand and have a glimpse of what it must have been like," he said, "back there in the beginning days."
They then pedaled off for their first leg. through the subdivisions of Poinciana, along the Polk-Osceola County line. The expedition then turned west, entering the Hilochee preserve in northern Polk County. There, they pedaled underneath Interstate 4, as trucks rumbled overhead.
The went through a narrow cattle crossing that was put in place when I-4 bisected a ranch back in the 1960's. The expedition was inspired by a study bear biologist Guthrie undertook in the early 200o's, following a black bear that had been tagged as it apparently tried to find a mate. The wayward bear started near Lake Okeechobee and traveled hundreds of miles north, but repeated efforts to get beyond I-4 were for naught. The bear eventually gave up, pawing its way back south to Highlands County.