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Wildlife Corridor: Heartland To Headwaters

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition team has trekked through scrub, swamp and forest from one end of the state to the other. They have documented their journeys in film, books and photography exhibitions with a goal demonstrating the urgent need for an unbroken spine of wilderness running the length of Florida to give wildlife a chance for survival.

The third expedition kicked off April 15 and once again, WUSF News reporters are along for the adventure. This time around the explorers want to highlight an area of wilderness in Central Florida that is threatened on all sides by urban development and transportation infrastructure including Interstate 4.

WUSF Public Media is a sponsor of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Follow along on with our reporters on our website and social media accounts on Facebook and on Twitter, using the hashtag #Heartland2Headwaters.

Steve Newborn / WUSF

Earlier this year, photographer Carlton Ward Jr. and three colleagues embarked on a trip to bring attention to the need to connect Florida's remaining wild areas - before it's too late. They called it the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition.  On Thursday night, Ward will kick off the first public exhibition of his photographs taken during that epic 100-day, 1,000-mile trip.

Steve Newborn / WUSF

The leader of the expedition that earlier this year traversed the length of Florida in 100 days talked about the expedition last night to a standing-room-only crowd at USF's St. Petersburg campus.  Carlton Ward says he's making progress on his mission to connect the state's disjointed wild areas.

WUSF recently went along with a thousand-mile journey through the heart of the state with the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition. But before that trip, another adventure was being captured in the lens of filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus.

In a documentary to be shown tonight on WUSF TV Channel 16, he takes a look at the history of how the Kissimmee River was straightened into a channel - how that devastated the wildlife in the headwaters of the Everglades - and how it's now being restored.

Steve Newborn

It's one day before the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition is set to end. The members have pushed themselves to the limit for three months, and it's time to relax with a dip on a remote stretch of the Suwanee River.

"Nice to have a little down time before we enter the Okefenokee," says expedition leader Carlton Ward Jr.

Expedition members Carlton Ward, left, Joe Guthrie and Mallory Lykes Dimmitt frolic in the Suwanee River
Steve Newborn

After driving down an unmarked sandy road in the middle of Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp, I met the four members of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition the day before they ended their trip on Earth Day. They were playing Frisbee in the dark waters of the Suwannee River. As the clouds darkened and a driving rainstorm washed over the group, I talked with the group about what they saw - and what they hope to accomplish.

 

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition just finished a 1,000-mile trip from the tip of the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. Their mission is to create a continuous wildlife corridor stretching the length of the state.

Steve Newborn

Wildlife photographer Carlton Ward Jr., filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus, bear biologist Joe Guthrie and conservationist Mallory Lykes Dimmitt have wrapped up the traveling part of their Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition. They crossed the finish line Sunday, nearly 100 days after setting off in the Everglades on a 1,000-mile journey to the Georgia state line. Their goal is to inspire the creation of a permanent unbroken wildlife corridor. WUSF's Steve Newborn kept track of the expedition - and joined in on occasion - and was there when they crossed the finish line.

It's been 1,000 miles in nearly 100 days. They started at the tip of the Everglades, and Sunday, members of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition reached the finish line - Georgia. Their goal is to connect the state's WUSF's Steve Newborn has been following the group, and reports on their mission - and whether it has a chance of succeeding.

Expedition member Carlton Ward Junior remembers slogging for days through the heart of the Everglades on kayak...

Members of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition sport calluses and legs hardened by three months of hiking through saw grass, palmetto stands and piney woods.

On Sunday, these four adventurers mark the end of a 1,000-mile trek across Florida, from the tip of the Everglades to the Okefenokee Swamp.

Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

Part of the 1,000-mile trail the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition is blazing through Florida passes through what may seem an unlikely place: the main training base for the Florida National Guard. WUSF's Steve Newborn reports on how the armed forces are armed with another mission: helping protect the state's wildlife.

Steve Newborn

One-thousand miles-- that's how far the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition is kayaking, cycling and walking.  This week, they're crossing the Ocala National Forest. I recently hiked just nine of those miles, and walked away several blisters and a new appreciation for what they're doing.

It's dawn at Hopkins Prairie, a primitive campground deep in the Ocala forest. I unzip my tent and head through the morning fog to see what Rick Smith is up to.

As they thread their way north, members of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition have come across one of their biggest barriers - Interstate 4.  And if humans have a hard time crossing the busy highway  --  what does that mean for wildlife?
 
Expedition members have paddled through the heart of the Everglades without seeing anyone else for days.

They've high-stepped through snake-and-alligator-infested swamps.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition started their trek in January at the tip of the Everglades, and they plan to end it next month at the Okeefenokee Swamp in Georgia.

Steve Newborn

OSCEOLA COUNTY - You'd think that wading through some of the most impenetrable swamps in Florida and traveling a thousand miles from the Everglades to Georgia would be tough enough. But sometimes the worst thing members of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition have to deal with is the weather.

It's the night before the expedition has travel 17 miles, hiking and then kayaking across Lake Kissimmee. But a front that spawned tornadoes in the Midwest is expected to arrive by the morning.

Steve Newborn

KISSIMMEE - The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition has emerged from the wilderness and is now skirting around Orlando's suburban sprawl. The group recently stopped at the Disney Wilderness Preserve on horseback, and they received an unexpected gift - from President Obama.

After trudging an untold number of miles under the weight of a 60 pound backpack...

SOUND: horse snorting.

...there's nothing like strutting into your next stop atop a horse.

Steve Newborn

KISSIMMEE - The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition neared civilization today. The group stopped at a wilderness preserve on the edge of Orlando’s sprawl, where they received an unexpected gift - from President Obama.

The gift was a copy of both the expedition’s route map through Florida and a photograph by group member Carlton Ward Jr. – both signed by the president. The items were brought to the White House by members of the Northern Everglades Alliance, which is trying to protect the headwaters of the Kissimmee River.

Steve Newborn

LAKE PLACID - The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition is nearing the halfway mark of their trip up the length of Florida - 1,000 miles in 100 days. Their mission is to publicize the need to connect the state's disjointed wild areas into a continuous wildlife corridor. WUSF's Steve Newborn recently caught up with the group for an update.

AVON PARK - There are more than just birds and alligators being encountered by the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition as they make their way up the middle of Florida. Try bombs. And jets. And attack helicopters. Members of the Expedition camped for a couple of days at the Avon Park Bombing Range, where they witnessed how F-16's making practice strafing runs coexist with some of the rarest creatures in Florida.

WUSF's Carson Cooper talks about their latest stop with expedition member and filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus.

Steve Newborn

LAKE PLACID - It all starts with the man who designed the Brooklyn Bridge. His grandson - John Roebling II - inherited more than 1,000 acres in Highlands County, and gave it to Richard Archbold, an aviator and explorer of exotic places such as Madagascar and New Guinea. It's now Archbold Biological Station.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition has just come out of one of the wildest places in Florida - if not the entire country - the Fakahatchee strand. We also speak with Mallory Lykes Dimmitt on how the Babcock Ranch Preserve is faring as a publically-run ranch.

 

CALOOSAHATCHEE RIVER - The Florida Panther is fighting its way back from the brink of extinction, and members of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition are seeing signs of the panther in their travels.

But the panther faces many dangers, as photojournalist and expedition member Carlton Ward Jr. tells WUSF.

A new study has some shocking news about wildlife in the Everglades. Raccoon and opossum sightings are down by 99 percent. Marsh rabbits and brown bunnies can’t be found at all. Sightings of bobcats, foxes and deer are also way down.

The culprit? Invasive species, like the Burmese Python. We discuss the impacts of invasive species with wildlife biologist Joe Guthrie as he hikes through the deepest, wildest parts of the Everglades.

You can see videos and photos of the expedition by clicking HERE.

Photo courtesy Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition

A group of wildlife conservationists are currently traversing the length of Florida by kayak, bicycle - and on foot. It's one thousand miles in one hundred days, and WUSF is keeping up with the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition. They're calling attention to the need to connect the state's disjointed wild areas into a contiguous wildlife corridor.

They began two weeks ago at the tip of the Everglades, and they've paddled through some of the remotest swamps in Florida. But still, they say even places people seldom visit have been affected by the hand of man.

Steve Newborn

One thousand miles in 100 days. That's the goal of a wildlife expedition that's calling attention to the need to connect the state's disjointed wild areas into a contiguous wildlife corridor. Today, the group is paddling through some of the most remote swamps in the Everglades.

Steve Newborn/WUSF

 Four wildlife conservationists are paddling, hiking and biking through the wild heart of Florida. Their mission: to call attention to the need to connect the state's disjointed wildlife preserves into a corridor stretching from the Everglades to the Okeefenokee Swamp.

 A group of wildlife conservationists are camped at the southern tip of the Everglades, ready to take the first step in a thousand-mile journey up the central spine of Florida. Their mission: publicizing the need to connect the state's disjointed natural areas into a continuous wildlife corridor.

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