Need an escape? Enjoy this story from duPont REGISTRY Tampa Bay’s Spring 2020 issue, “The Great Outdoors.” Find more great escapes in the digital edition or check out a hard copy, coming soon to select mailboxes and distribution points around Tampa Bay.
In 2012, photographer Carlton Ward, Jr. had an idea: What if he could show the world that parts of wild Florida still existed, one that would connect the Everglades with Georgia? What if he could take a walk and a paddle through those connected parts and shine light on them, and the people tied to those places? As it had for Dr. Michael Fay, who walked from the Congo to Gabon, could the power of visual storytelling help protect an emerald web of marsh, forest and swamp for wildlife to travel from the Big Cypress Swamp to Georgia and Alabama? Fay’s “megatransect” covered 2,000 miles in 450 days, and inspired the creation of 13 new national parks in Africa. Could a similar expedition motivate Floridians to preserve and protect a wild cordon running through the Sunshine State — a Florida Wildlife Corridor?
He decided to try — along with Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, who has, according to Ward, “expeditions in her DNA,” bear biologist Joe Guthrie and filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus. They paddled and hiked 1,000 Florida miles in 100 days. A year later, they slogged through Fisheating Creek, and in 2015 Dimmitt led another expedition — this time, 1,000 miles in only 70 days, adding biking to the mix.
Exploring Florida’s wide-open green spaces and lushly forested wooded places didn’t stop there. In 2018, the Headwaters Expedition explored the Everglades to the Green Swamp, the area of the Corridor closest to Tampa Bay and the origin of the Hillsborough, Peace, Withlacoochee and Ocklawaha Rivers. On this sojourn, ribbons of waterways washed uncomfortably close to ribbons of asphalt.
“You can almost see the citrus groves turning to rooftops there,” Ward says of the Headwaters Expedition. “There’s a question of urgency but there’s a sense of it’s almost too late.”
A year later, though, the Ranch to Ridge expedition offered hope. The journey started at Highlands Hammock State Park — Florida’s first, donated by Margaret Roebling (of the Brooklyn Bridge Roeblings). From there, the explorers traversed ranches, groves and public preserves, ending at The Nature Conservancy’s Tiger Creek Preserve by Bok Tower. Along the way, Ward says, the expedition revealed hope — and opportunity.
“There’s a whole lot of hope to get it right,” he says, because landowners here “want to be part of the conservation solution.”
Green, screened: On March 10, the Ridge Audubon Society in Polk County hosted a screening of The Last Green Thread, the short film about the 2018 Headwaters Expedition, followed by a lecture and Q&A with Florida Wildlife Corridor Executive Director Jason Lauritsen. On May 2, look for the Florida Wildlife Corridor’s film about the 2019 expedition. Location TBA.
For more on the Florida Wildlife Corridor — why it’s important, and what you can do to help — read my story “Protecting Paradise” in the dRTB Spring 2020 “Great Outdoors” issue.