Goin’ Down South

Leon Sinks, Appalachicola NF, FL

The fall of 2000 brought about some major changes in my life. After working at a couple of different locations as a trail builder, I had become unsure of the long-term prospects for that type of work. One unexpected phone call would change that, The call came from the Forest Service Liaison for the Florida National Scenic Trail. They were looking to start a trail crew program and wanted to know if I would be interested in leading a crew of six individuals during the winter of 2000-2001. Most trail programs I was familiar with ended in September or October at the latest because of the difficulty in building trail in winter conditions. the winter time, however, was prime trail building weather during those months. Cooler temperatures and generally much more pleasant conditions made September through March the best time to work in Florida. I jumped at the opportunity, boarded a Greyhound bus and headed towards Tallahassee.

Live Oak forest

Florida would prove to be a pleasant surprise. I had expected most of Florida to be a suburb of Disney World, but was glad to see an abundance of natural beauty and wilderness protected in the state. My primary work location would be within Appalachicola National Forest with most of my efforts centered around the Bradwell Bay Wilderness and the adjoining Sopchoppy River. In Bradwell Bay, we would be removing blowdowns and performing general cleanup from a fire and along the Sopchoppy, we would be constructing 15 bridges over seasonal flood-prone areas. The crew I led consisted of five college age adults who would spend three or six months working on the trail. Our base camp was a three room mobile home at the Forest Service work center near Crawfordville.

Sunset on the Gulf Coast

Florida also presented a new challenge. I always loved the mountains and had pictured myself always being near them. Florida’s high point is only 345 feet above sea level; in other words, Florida is flat. It is also a sub-tropical ecosystem. There would be new varieties of trees, plants and wildlife that I would discover. An alligator is not something you would run across in the mountains.

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