Monday, August 22, 2011

What is this Site?

I have loved exploring the wilderness for as long as I can remember being alive, and therefore I have done a lot of hiking in my time. But up until six years ago, the one area where I almost never hiked was the one I call home.

As far as I was concerned, hiking meant exploring terrain that is vertical, not horizontal. It meant walking along a high rocky ridge, not a soft sand bluff that is less than ten feet tall. And it meant being on the banks of a whitewater river, not a sluggish creek. In short, I felt it was part of the essence of hiking to be anywhere other than Florida.

Part of me (a rather big part) still feels that way. But shortly after becoming a father I decided to learn to appreciate the place I live, to force myself to realize that sometimes the grass is green on this side of the fence as well as the other. And once I figuratively forced my eyes open, I quickly noticed that there is a great deal of natural beauty waiting to be explored right here in the Tampa Bay area.

From oak hammocks to scrubby flatwoods, and dark swamps to undeveloped beaches, we have a surprising variety of landscapes from which to choose. And it turns out we live amongst a much greater variety of wildlife than the expected gators and snakes -- as evidenced by coyotes taking up residence in Safety Harbor, and bears loping through Land O Lakes subdivisions, and at least one Florida panther confirmed to exist in Hillsborough County. So, clearly, this region is not lacking when it comes to wildness.

One benefit of hiking in the Tampa Bay area is that it is easy on the gear, which translates to easy on the wallet. There is no need to spend $200 on boots, because in most cases a cheap pair of tennis shoes is all you need to walk through our woods. Another benefit is that you can hike to your heart’s content all through the winter. So, after you think about it, the idea of hiking in the Tampa Bay area is not as crazy as it sounds when you first hear it.

This blog will serve as a guide to the many places around here where you can walk through nature and get away from the crowd. Some of these places are popular, but most are unknown to the vast majority of people who live or pass through here. By “Tampa Bay area” I generally mean Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Pasco, and Hernando counties, or anything within a roughly 60-mile radius of downtown Tampa.

I decided to start this blog not only because I like to write about doing things in the outdoors, but because there is a real need for an information source that is focused on hikes in this area. I figured that if even I never thought about hiking in these parts until I was in my mid-thirties, there must be lots of other people who would like to get outside but simply don’t know where to go.

I will probably do most of my writing during what I consider to be Florida’s “hiking season,” i.e., the cooler months starting in late fall and running through the winter into early spring. Even for “The Tampa Bay Hiker,” summer here is just too damn hot and humid to think about Tampa Bay hiking…and I prefer to do my writing when I am inspired.

I hope you like what you see here. If you do, or even if you don’t, please don’t be shy about leaving a comment to tell me your thoughts.