We’re hikers. We’re Floridians. We know what it’s like to deal with heat, humidity, insects, and weather than can swing from tropical to freezing on a winter’s day. We founded the Florida Trail Hikers Alliance to encourage more people to hike our 1,400 mile National Scenic Trail, the Florida Trail, and to provide you resources to help you accomplish that goal. If you’re planning a day hike, an overnighter, a long section, or a thru-hike, we’re here to help out.
FLORIDA IS DIFFERENT. What you’ve learned on other long distance trails doesn’t hold true in Florida. Our hiking season is flip-flopped from the rest of the United States: October through April. Our best backpacking is in the dead of winter. This is the only long distance trail in the USA where you won’t run into snow. And despite our lack of mountains, the Florida Trail is not an easy trail to complete. That’s why providing hiking information to you to help you get out there and enjoy the trail is an important part of our mission, as is organizing events and moderating online groups where experienced hikers can help out hikers new to the Florida Trail.
Our two signature events, the Florida Trail Kickoff (held the first week of January) and Billy Goat Day (held the last week of January) attracted more hikers than ever before, even though we’d scaled our publicity of both events way back. That tells us that the hiker grapevine for Florida is growing! And so is the Florida Trail Class of 2017. Three hikers have already completed their 2017 thru-hikes, with nearly 30 more out on the trail right now working towards that goal. More than a dozen section hikers seek to finish their end-to-end of the Florida Trail this year.
2017 Florida Trail Kickoff
To ensure we’d still be there to get hikers out into Big Cypress, we found it necessary to scale back and make the Florida Trail Kickoff more of a low-key event like it had first started years ago. That’s not to say that attendance didn’t set records, but it meant a more basic gathering with Trail Lakes Campground as our host, and no outreach events at Big Cypress National Preserve. Our focus was entirely on the hikers themselves.
We’re grateful to Roy “Bayou” Knight, Karen “Hobo Girl” Miller, Billy Goat, Chris Bell, Ralph Duarte, and many others for stepping up to the plate to volunteer to shuttle and feed hikers and to get them out on the trail. Our VP Randy “Chuck Norris” Anderson oversaw camping and cooking. Thanks to Chris Bell for putting together the video below on this years’ kickoff.
2017 Billy Goat Day
Billy Goat Day is our annual gathering of Florida Trail hikers – past, present, and future – along the Florida Trail in Central Florida on legendary hiker Billy Goat’s birthday, January 28. This year, it all came together smoothly and quickly, thanks to volunteers who raised their hands and said “We’ll help!” We held it for a second year at Lake Mills Park in Chuluota, which has a nice and inexpensive campground on site as well as a pavilion big enough to fit our group.
Your entire Board of Directors was present at this event, flipping burgers and chatting with hikers old and new, but more importantly we had 15 Class of 2017 thru-hikers present among the record crowd of about 75 attendees. Many thanks to those who picked the thru-hikers up along the trail and dropped them off again. Like last year, two walked in under their own power, timing their hike just right.
As a potluck and a picnic, it was a huge success thanks to everyone bringing more food than we ever expected, above and beyond the food list that Eleni McDaniel-Rebman was managing online. TruckrBob helped us secure the pavilion permit, and Chris Bell once again produced a video that tells the story of what Billy Goat Day is all about – dozens and dozens of hikers talking trail and gear.
One of our honored guests this year was Dell Loyless, who at 100 years old is the oldest member of ALDHA – he joined the new organization as a life member while hiking the Appalachian Trail in the early 1980s – and of the Florida Trail Association. It was one of the best days of his life, he said, meeting so many long distance hikers. Billy Goat, the man of the day, had a fabulous time as well, and we’re pretty sure by the smiles that just about everyone who attended did as well.
2016 was a tough year for the core volunteer team of the Florida Trail Hikers Alliance. All of us suffered loss and illness in our families, with ongoing caregiving of aging parents also coming into our lives and taking over. So our ability to focus on hiker support past our January events just wasn’t there. We reassessed our strengths and abilities, voted to close down our online forums and focus on communicating with hikers through our Facebook group and our Facebook page, and shut down our website to save money, scaling down to this webpage and the many informative links that it leads to. Just as we found it necessary to pull back from our outreach, we met Bill Walker, who launched the Florida Hiking Syndicate group on Facebook and has done a fabulous job of growing the online hiking community in Florida. We are involved in that effort as well as a private Facebook group for hikers currently on the trail.
2016 Florida Trail Kickoff
We put a significant amount of effort into growing the Florida Trail Kickoff in 2016, enjoying the sponsorship and attendance of ZPacks, a homegrown lightweight backpacking gear company from Melbourne, Florida, and having the founder of the Florida Trail, Jim Kern, come to address the thru-hikers and public with a special presentation at the Oasis Visitor Center showcasing his first exploratory hikes to site the Florida Trail, the very first which was through Big Cypress before it was even a National Preserve. While rain and high temperatures haunted the week, we still saw nearly 50 thru-hikers and section hikers take to the trail at the Southern Terminus. The Florida Trail Association joined us in having a table with public information at Oasis.
2016 Billy Goat Day
As we were pushing the limits of the picnic pavilion at Bear Pond the year before, we changed venues for Billy Goat Day to Lake Mills Park in Chuluota. We reserved the rather large group campsite, planning to have everything happen “in the woods,” but as the weather got sour, we also rented the park’s largest picnic pavilion at the last minute. It turned out to be a very good move, as it rained most of the day and we needed that space for the hikers who arrived. In all, we had 52 in attendance, a record to date; only a handful camped out because of the rains. Two thru-hikers, D2 and Reverend, walked in off the trail.
How can you help us help the trail community?
Local knowledge. Do you live near a section of the Florida Trail, or frequently hike on the Florida Trail? Share your trail updates in our forums and in our Facebook group to let hikers know that something along the trail may have changed recently. As the authors of The Florida Trail Guide are among our volunteers, they help maintain our list of trail updates as they uncover changes to the trail. Your input is appreciated, as the book and app help underwrite the efforts of the Florida Trail Hikers Alliance.
Shuttling hikers. The Florida Trail is a linear footpath with very few loop options. There is a great need for assisting section hikers and weekend backpackers by helping them place vehicles for section hikes. In addition, during the spring and fall hiking season, both thru-hikers and section hikers may be in need of assistance getting to either terminus of the trail, or need help for resupply along long stretches where there are no services. Be a Trail Angel and help out: join our Florida Trail Angels mailing list to get notices we pass along from people who ask for help. We won’t share your personal information with hikers; it’s up to you to reach out to those in need.
Gatherings. Depending on the type of gathering, help may be needed with shuttling hikers to and/or from the trail to the event, donations of food, onsite food preparation, public outreach, logistical coordination, and the like. If you’d like to get involved with one of our gatherings, contact us with some background on your expertise and interests. And be sure to sign up for our mailing list to know what’s coming up.
Outreach. Public outreach is an important part of our mission. If you’ve hiked the Florida Trail, we’d love to have you tell your story, either in writing or images. Are you a whiz with social media? You can help us spread the word about the Florida Trail. If you have a knack for public speaking, you can help our efforts in presenting programs around the United States. Contact us with your details.
Governance. We’re a young nonprofit and have plenty of room to grow. If you’re interested in serving on the board, please take a look at our bylaws and contact us to share your expertise and and interests.