Swamp Stomping, Animal Sightings, and the Value of Trails

Mallory Dimmitt and joe Guthrie wade through the Bradwell Bay Wilderness Area in Apalachicola National Forest, following the orange blazes of the Florida National Scenic Trail.  Photo by Carlton Ward Jr / CarltonWard.com
Mallory Dimmitt and Joe Guthrie wade through the Bradwell Bay Wilderness Area in Apalachicola National Forest, following the orange blazes of the Florida National Scenic Trail. In this stretch, the standing water is the trail. (Photo by Carlton Ward Jr.)

“Is it a trail?” When people first learn of the Florida Wildlife Corridor and our #Glades2Gulf Expedition, this is often the question asked. I answer that the Corridor is wider than a trail; it’s a broad swath of habitat that connects even larger land areas important for wildlife, watersheds, and people.

Still, in planning our travel route through the Corridor for our 1000-mile expeditions, we find and follow existing trails where available, just as wildlife do. In our daily journeys thus far (today is Expedition Day 35 of 70—the half-way point!), we regularly see prints from bobcats, raccoons, river otters, birds, deer, feral hogs, and other species who use the same trails we’re on (see our full species sightings list at the bottom of this post).

A bobcat triggers a remote trail camera while walking through the ancient scrub of the Lake Wales Ridge at Archbold Biological Station in Lake Placed, FL. The 2012 Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition traversed this same property. (Photo by Carlton Ward Jr.)

The Route So Far

So far on this expedition we’ve followed at least eight state designated greenways or trails on land or water (paddling trails are also known as “blueways”), including the General James A. Van Fleet State Trail,  Withlacoochee River (South), Withlacoochee State TrailBig Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail, Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, Steinhatchee River, and the wild and wonderful Ochlockonee River, which we’re currently exploring for three days via kayak. Each of these trails is an excellent option for getting out into Wild Florida, and they provide a range of experiences from tame (paved bike path) to full immersion (swamp tromps).

Our wettest experiences so far have come from three stretches of the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST), a footpath that spans 1,400 miles.

In the first week of our trek we spent three wet days traversing the Green Swamp wilderness deep in the headwaters of central Florida rivers, yet only a short drive from major population centers like Orlando and Tampa (see our Green Swamp blog post).

Last week we traversed the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge via the FNST, and got soaked from sloshing through the flooded path leading us into the wilderness area, and drenched from above thanks to an all day rainstorm preceding a cold front.

This week we crossed the Bradwell Bay Wilderness Area in Apalachicola National Forest, wading through chilly water that was nearly waist high for more than four hours. There is no better way to appreciate a swamp than to wade out into it and gawk at the surrounding beauty.

Mallory Dimmitt rests after backpacking on the Florida Trail  through the wilderness area in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Carlton Ward Jr / CarltonWard.com
Mallory Dimmitt rests after backpacking on the Florida Trail through the wilderness area in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by Carlton Ward Jr.)

Benefits of Blueways

Blueways and trails provide numerous benefits for Floridians and visitors. Trails add value to nearby homes and communities, and outdoor recreation generates over $38 billion in consumer spending in Florida and supports 330,000 jobs (Infographic: Economics of Florida Outdoor Recreation & Trails).

There’s also a health benefit: the American Heart Association estimates that every dollar spent on trails and walking paths could save approximately three dollars in medical expenses. There are many types of trails in Florida and beyond, including options near you. Find one and follow it!

Mallory Dimmitt studies the Florida Trail map, and access to the Bradwell Bay Wilderness Area in Apalachicola National Forest. Photo by Carlton Ward Jr / CarltonWard.com
Mallory Dimmitt studies the Florida Trail map of the Bradwell Bay Wilderness Area in Apalachicola National Forest.   (Photo by Carlton Ward Jr.)
 #Glades2Gulf Species List as of February 12, 2015
Wood StorkTricolored HeronTufted Titmouse
Florida Sandhill CraneLittle Blue HeronBlack-capped Chickadee
Red-shouldered HawkBald EagleGreat White Egret
Turkey VultureEastern PhoebePygmy Rattlesnake
Black VultureMallardBlack Racer
White-tailed DeerAmerican CootVirginia Opossum
RaccoonLimpkinNorthern Bobwhite
Wild TurkeyBarred OwlBelted Kingfisher
White IbisOspreyPileated Woodpecker
Eastern Grey SquirrelKilldeerBrown Water Snake
Common YellowthroatYellow-rumped WarblerDouble-Crested Cormorant
Palm WarblerSquirrel Tree FrogAnhinga
Gray CatbirdBarking Tree FrogWood Duck
Northern MockingbirdGreen AnoleBrown Anole
American RobinLubber GrasshopperYellow-bellied Slider
American CrowRiver OtterEastern Towhee
Great Blue HeronNine-banded ArmadilloFish Crow
Cattle EgretSoutheastern Pocket GopherWhite Pelican
Northern CardinalCoyoteFeral Pig
Eastern BluebirdCarolina WrenAmerican Alligator
American KestrelBlue-gray GnatcatcherReddish Egret
Mourning DoveHairy WoodpeckerWillet
DunlinHorned GrebeRedhead
Pied-billed GrebeBottlenose DolphinLaughing Gull
Hooded MerganserRing-billed GullCommon Loon
Red Breasted MerganserGreat Horned OwlBlack Skimmer
Eastern Box TurtleAmerican OystercatcherPine Warbler
Eastern MeadowlarkRed-bellied WoodpeckerWilson’s Snipe
Redwing BlackbirdYellow-rumped WarblerCrayfish sp.
Common GrackleCommon Rock DoveMerlin
Swamp SparrowCommon GoldeneyeCommon Gallinule
Common Water SnakeCommon Garter SnakeChipping Sparrow
Suwannee River CooterRuby-crowned KingletBlue-headed Vireo
Spring PeeperNorthern Cricket FrogNorthern Harrier
Common NightjarGreen HeronCooper’s Hawk


Read All Florida Wildlife Corridor Posts

Mallory Dimmitt’s “Dolphins and a Long Paddle” in the Tampa Bay Times


Mallory Lykes Dimmitt is a seventh generation Floridian whose childhood was partly spent exploring the lands and waters of Central Florida. She pursued her passion for the outdoors into a career, receiving her B.S. in Natural Resources from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. She was also awarded a Doris Duke Conservation Fellowship at Duke University’s Nicholas School of Environment where she earned a Master’s of Environmental Management. Some of Mallory’s projects include protecting river corridors and large landscapes in Southwest Colorado and across the Colorado Plateau with The Nature Conservancy, research abroad for the International Water Management Institute and, currently, leading the Florida Wildlife Corridor as Executive Director. Mallory is passionate about freshwater conservation and the intersection of landscape scale conservation and agriculture.
  • Charlotte Jorgensen

    A remarkable, ambitious an important expedition. Thank you for undertaking it and sharing it with us.

  • Dr Bill

    What an adventure& so well written. Sitting in
    in the backyard quietly feeding the Mergansers
    on their way through & listening to the
    frogs who along with the toads are making
    a limited comeback I spotted a specie that
    we last saw in our backyard as our pool
    was being dug in 1987, 10 yrs after we
    moved from Minn. to Willadel- a beautiful
    Night Heron. Soon after a Pileated Woodpecker
    on the side of one of one the tall palms along
    Druid Rd in front of our home(hardly resembles)
    with a diff roof & landscaping. Wipperwills
    plentifiul but the Jays killed off by the virus
    that came through. Sad to have seen the
    changes below fresh & salt water too!

  • Russell Rice

    I am so impressed with your dedication to the beauty of Florida.
    I have lived here on and off for 42 years. The whole environment is wonderful for all residents. Thanks for your efforts.

  • Emily Bryan

    Visited Big Cat Rescue in Tampa today and attempted to explain your expedition to them. They seemed to have no knowledge of it. Discouraging. I will try to send them your website. You are doing a beautiful job!

  • Ron Hubner

    Just found your items today and totally regret I’m just too damn old (84) to do something like this. I still am an active Kayaker but this would be too much..
    Is there any possibility of a pamphlet or must I struggle with the computer?
    Keep it up and Godspeed!

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