A high-tech trail trek to draw kids outdoors

The Ledger, New York Times Regional Media Group – October 05, 2007
By Gary White

A current TV commercial depicts a man aiming a hose through a window of his home to wash a car parked below in the driveway. The humorous ad promotes a line of air-conditioners, suggesting the units make it so comfortable inside that no one would want to leave the house. Glenda Mink considers the commercial only a slight exaggeration of the outlook held by many Americans. She hopes the ad will prompt some to examine their sedentary and indoor-oriented lives.

"They've done this almost as a public service," Mink, a volunteer with the local group Friends of Parks Foundation, said of the commercial.

Friends of the Parks has undertaken its own form of public service. The volunteer organization is teaming with other groups to sponsor Trek Ten Trails, a year-long series of hiking events aimed at encouraging youngsters in Polk County to get outside and exercise.

The series opens Saturday with a celebration at the Fort Fraser Trail in Highland City. Scheduled hikes will follow each month at nature areas and urban walkways throughout Polk County.

Mink said the promotion was inspired by the book "Nature Deficit Disorder," in which author Richard Louv suggests many American children have too little connection to the natural world. Mink said she thinks the trend reinforces the rise in childhood obesity rates.

"I do think it's applicable right here in Polk County," Mink said. "Kids just don't get outside any more. We really just want to get folks off the couch and outdoors to celebrate nature and become more active."

Organizers hope to lure children - and their parents - outside in part by introducing them to geocaching, a high-tech form of treasure hunting. Caches will be hidden along each of the hiking routes, and participants will receive "passport journals" in which to document their activities.

Geocaching usually involves the use of global-positioning system devices, but Mink said written instructions in the journals will direct hikers to caches laden with trinkets. The hidden boxes also will contain self-inking stamps, allowing participants to stamp their journals and prove they did the hikes.

Mink said members of the Florida Geocaching Association will be on hand to explain the activity. Volunteers also will demonstrate how to make walking staffs, and participants can collect medallions to commemorate each of the hikes. Participants will have the chance to win prizes, including GPS devices and copies of Louv's book.

Future events will be held at such sites as Lakeland Highlands Scrub, Crooked Lake Prairie, Gator Creek Reserve and the Lake Hollingsworth multi-use trail. Mink said interpretive guides will attend the hikes at the five county environmental properties and Saddle Creek Park's nature trail. Those who do all of the hikes will receive certificates proclaiming them members of the "Trail Walkers Club."

The year-long series culminates with a celebration Sept. 13, 2008 at the Auburndale-TECO Trail. Though gatherings at each hiking venue are scheduled for specific days, Mink said people are welcome to explore each site on their own schedules.

Mink said some 300 people had registered by early this week.