At state parks across the country, participants hiked trails in celebration of New Year’s Day. This annual tradition of “First Walks” at state parks encourages people to be physically fit and increase their knowledge of local plants and wildlife. Approximately 26 people participated in the 8:30 a.m. hike that started at Big Oak Trail and ended at Hickory Trail. A short section of the path had to be rerouted because Hurricane Irma knocked down a large live oak that blocked the previous path.
While hiking the trail, participants learned how Hurricane Irma had impacted the park. The high winds blew oak trees over because they did not have long tap roots to hold them in place. Pine trees, with their extensive tap roots, were snapped and killed. The epiphytes growing on these dead trees were in danger of dying. Bok Tower removed the epiphytes, which were mostly orchids, from the fallen trees and took them to their facility.
The Big Oak Trail was not the only trail affected by Hurricane Irma. Cypress Swamp Trail, with its historic catwalk, remains closed due to extensive damage sustained during the hurricane.
As participants examined the changes in Big Oak Trail, they were instructed to keep towards the middle of the trail in a single file line to avoid poison ivy. Laura McMullen, park ranger and trail guide, informed the hikers that since poison ivy is a vine it can grow on the ground and in trees.
The path curved and bent as it made its way to a large live oak tree filled with cement. In 2013 a large storm knocked over the top of the tree and killed it. According to McMullen, in the 1930’s, John Roebling spent over $5,000 on this same tree to save it. All the rotten wood was removed, and concrete was poured inside the tree to stabilize it.
Participants learned the names of trees, plants, and animals as they hiked the trail. They also learned about park etiquette, including the care of trees. McMullen pointed to a tall tree with names carved into it.
“These carvings really affect the trees,” she said. “They make them sick and invite diseases. We ask people not to do it. We also ask people not to take plants or anything else from the park.”
The crisp, cool air provided hikers with comfortable weather to explore the park trails.
Amy Terrenzio from Waterloo, Ontario in Canada participated in the first day hikes, along with residents from Highlands County. Torrenzio stated, “We were down visiting my parents, and we decided to come on the first day tours.”
Most of the participants from the first hike, stayed for all three tours with each tour exploring a different area of Highlands Hammock.