When all was said and done, Hurricane Irma proved to be one of the strongest storms to ever hit the U.S. With sustained winds of 185 miles per hour for 37 long hours, Irma pummeled Florida and drove a storm surge more than 20 feet above normal tide levels.
In addition to wreaking havoc on Florida communities, Irma caused widespread damage on Florida’s National Forests, especially the centrally located Ocala National Forest. This verdant gem sits just an hour north of Orlando and offers residents and visitors incredible recreational opportunities while hosting a diverse and fascinating assemblage of wildlife. From swimming in crystal clear springs to exploring Wilderness Areas, the Ocala is a welcome alternative to Florida’s well-known beach scene.
In 2018, with additional support from U.S. Bank, REI and the NFF workrf to rehabilitate trails that Irma damaged. Much of our work focused on the Florida Scenic Trail that traverses the Ocala National Forest. Specifically, we replaced a “puncheon,” or raised boardwalk, that helps hikers navigate particularly low-elevation portions of the trail. This puncheon is more than a half-mile long and facilitated additional trail maintenance once repaired. In addition to providing improved experiences on the Florida Trail, this work improved watershed health and wildlife habitat.
We will worked on the nine-mile “Saint Francis Trail System. This system accesses the “Old Ghost Town” of Saint Francis, once a thriving river port, and travels through three distinct ecosystems. In addition to general trail maintenance following Hurricane damage, we also repaired several hundred feet of boardwalk in this trail system.
Finally, we addressed one of the most unique spots on the Forest: the Lake Eaton Sink Hole Trail. This trail accesses Pine Scrub habitat and provides access to an actual sinkhole. Visitors can once again safely enjoy the Pine Scrub habitat and climb down into a sinkhole to experience this unique feature of the Forest.
- Worked with five different partners
- Built or maintained 20 miles of trail
- Restored 2 trailheads
- Worked with 32 volunteers and 25 youth who put in 520 hours of work
This project is 95% complete. We look forward to completing the project in early 2019. Thanks to all the volunteers and partners who helped with this project.