National Forest Foundation

Down and Dirty in the Florida Swamp

NFF Grant Partners and Projects


In the Summer of 2018 the Florida Trail Association received a grant from the National Forest Foundation through the Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences Program to rebuild a string of puncheon on the Florida Trail on the Western Corridor of the Ocala National Forest. With some of the structures over twenty years old, most were in serious states of decay and disrepair with exposed nails, broken deck boards, and rotten mud sills.

With great anticipation FTA staff planned the major undertaking to start in the fall. Site visits, field logistics, meetings with Forest Service archeologists and biologists, and equipment purchases took place in July, August, and September with work planned to start in October.

Over the course of 16 days of consecutive work in October, more than forty volunteers worked tirelessly to remove and replace hundreds of tons of puncheon material. This back breaking work involved tearing out the heavy and water logged timbers and deeply embedded rebar by hand, often far from a road, and hauling them back to a loading site where they could be disposed of. This was exhausting and dirty work and took the longest of any step in this project.

Using a combination of tools, both hand and machine, the new material was slowly delivered to each respective site and the installation began. This process involves laying timbers by hand, cutting curves with chainsaws, drilling pilot holes for rebar and timber spikes, and then hammering the whole thing together.

Something to consider is that on the second day of the puncheon project, on October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael was ravaging the panhandle of Florida. Our crew was working on a sunny day with a steady breeze, excitedly starting this project. After work we were glued to our respective screens mesmerized and saddened by the destruction taking place just a few hours away.

On December 18, we wrapped up the Western Corridor puncheon project, installing the very last of the 800 deck timbers. That is 9,600 linear feet of new material! The deck boards alone weighed a whopping 80,000 pounds, and were handled numerous times before being spiked into position. We also installed 350 (26,000 pounds) mud sills, 700 pieces of rebar, and hammered in 3,200 timber spikes.

Over the course of this project: 56 individual FTA volunteers worked 2,424 hours and drove 8,585 miles to work on the trail.

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