|Last week, my buddy Bob and I hit the Florida Trail to knock off another segment in the Ocala National Forest — this time, Hopkins Prairie. My first visit here was with Deb Blick, cartographer and data collector extraordinare of the Florida Trail Association, and it was a walk at a data collector’s pace. On a later visit, I slogged a ways through deep water and turned around. This trek was at a comfortable place and full of surprises.The first was a warning posted by the USDA Forest Service, the first I’d ever seen such a notice along the trail. It warned of unusual human activity ahead that might “impact our hiking experience.” That is to say, without saying, the Rainbow People. They return to the Ocala National Forest every winter, nomads of the woods.||
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We met up with a few encampments, but the folks were friendly and staying to themselves, practicing a good bit of stewardship … unlike prior encounters other hikers have had on other sections of the trail. I hope the goodwill continues. Once we rounded the end of the prairie, we saw two backpackers headed our way, and we waited for them at the Salt Springs junction, but they never caught up. As we exited the forest via the Salt Springs connector, we met another backpacker – Uncle Walt from WhiteBlaze, who was headed southbound to the other end of the forest. Tis the season for backpackers! Another beautiful hike on the Florida Trail.