Juniper Prairie Wilderness F-Troop and Leave No Trace Training

Just fresh from a nice long holiday break, we started our first days back getting ready for our first F-troop Project. These are larger-scale volunteer events that are funded and planned through the Florida Trail Association, and we’re lucky enough to be a part of them! This project was in the Juniper Prairie area in the Ocala National Forest, the oldest national forest East of the Mississippi!

We headed down to the Ocala with our agency partner, Sean, and our new volunteer, Spider (yes, that’s his name). We met up with the F-troop coordinator, Bill Taylor and his wife, Linda at the campground we would be staying at in Deland, Florida. The campground is owned by Dick Schuler. Dick took us out for pancakes the next day at DeLeon Springs, which is where Ponce DeLeon originally thought he’d discovered the Fountain of Youth. None of us swam in it, fearing we’d all shrink down to babies and not be able to eat more pancakes.

The next day, nearly 30 volunteer arrived from all over the country; partially from The Florida Trail Association, and partly from the American Hiking Society. Our goal for the next week was to maintain about 8 miles of trail with loppers, axes, crosscuts, bow saws, and most importantly, Suwannee Slings. So, armed with these tools, orange hard hats and a multitude of advice and stories from Bill Taylor, we set out everyday to finish the trail. In the evenings, we cooked dinner for our volunteers, and one night Michael even whipped up an apple cobbler in the dutch oven for everyone! Sometimes we would sit around the campfire and talk with AT through-hikers, and sometimes we’d go out into a field with a volunteer, Roger, and learn about constellations and planets.

In the end, we finished the trail and had a successful trip down to the Ocala National Forest. We said goodbye to Bill and his two-suspender fashion statement, and headed back up to Crawfordville to get ready for our next endeavor: The Leave No Trace Trainer Course.

The three of us, along with a few others, went out with Janet, an LNT Master Trainer, over in Econfina to learn and experience the 7 principles of Leave No Trace. This was a one-night back country trip in which we discussed each principle periodically throughout. We learned so much from Janet and the other participants, and now we’re all certified to teach Leave No Trace principles to others. Most importantly, we all got really good at playing Contact.

- Emily