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Forest Service agencies and partners finalize Florida National Scenic Trail Big Bend reroute

Staff Report

TALLAHASSEE – The USDA Forest Service Southern Region recently approved a public land Big Bend reroute of the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST) through a collaborative partnership with several state agencies and stakeholders.

The comprehensive plan, known as the Big Bend Reroute, was developed through a coordinated effort between the Forest Service’s FNST Program staff and state agency partners which include the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Suwannee River Water Management District, Florida State Parks and the Office of Greenways and Trails, the Florida Forest Service, Taylor County, Four Rivers Land & Timber Company LLC, the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation, and the Florida Trail Association (FTA).

The town of Perinton's trails help residents connect to nature close to home.

“Providing access to natural areas is critical in perpetuating support for conservation. We are honored to be a partner and we look forward to having this new trail among the segments located on other wildlife management areas (WMAs) throughout the state,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. “Trail users will enjoy the Big Bend’s beautiful and diverse landscape.”

Over the years, representatives from each agency worked closely to develop a solution to bridge one of the largest gaps in the Florida Trail. In 2016, a planning team identified a stretch between the Twin Rivers State Forest and the Aucilla River Wildlife Management Area that would provide hikers the opportunity to experience some of the most scenic and undeveloped coastal public lands in Florida. This 50-mile proposed reroute was outside the original 20-mile reroute planned in 1986.

“The approval of the FNST Big Bend Reroute maximizes trail protection and permanency. It better aligns with the nature and purposes of the FNST and is consistent with the National Trails System Act,” said Forest Supervisor Kelly Russell of the National Forests in Florida. “This is an exciting opportunity to not only close gaps in the FNST but to highlight some of the state’s truly unparalleled natural and cultural resources.”

The Forest Service will publish official mapping updates and in partnership with state land management agencies and the FTA, coordinate public outreach. The Florida Trail Administrator will coordinate the implementation of the rerouting adjustments with land managers and partners over the next several months; ensuring partner timelines and expectations are consistent with specific land management plans.

The FNST is one of 11 National Scenic Trails in the country and is also the state’s official long-distance hiking trail by state statute. The success of the Florida Trail is made possible by the many state and local agencies who host and manage the trail along with the tremendous volunteer efforts of the FTA.