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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.

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition Kicks off First Leg

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.

Credit Steve Newborn / WUSF News
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson flies the flag with expedition members Carlton Ward Jr., right, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt and Joe Guthrie

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.

  • The expedition members  recently were in the WUSF studios for a taping of Florida Matters. You can listen to it here.
  • And you can revisit our coverage of the original 2012 expedition in our archives.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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