Pack your hiking shoes and your favorite walking stick, then head to central Florida to Trek Ten Trails.

With more than 125 miles of trails, central Florida's Polk County offers a rich diversity of natural experiences on foot. The new Trek Ten Trails program is a great way to go exploring.

Offering 10 guided walks spread out over a year, Trek Ten Trails includes several unusual twists. A Celebrate Nature Passport Journal provides details about each trail and can be used to record your accomplishments and observations. In keeping with the latest high-tech craze of geogaching – a kind of modern-day treasure hunting using GPS – there's a hidden treasure along each trail (GPS coordinates are provided, along with "old-fashioned" written instructions). As you complete each trail, you receive Native American trading beads and can order commemorative medallions to decorate your walking sticks. You can go with the group, or walk at your own pace.

Pick up a Celebrate Nature Passport Journal at Polk Outpost 27, Polk County's new interactive visitor information center, where passports will be available. (The center is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and is located on Hwy. 27, a half mile south of Interstate 4 at Exit 55.) Then start tracking your miles on central Florida's trails!

Trek Ten Trails

  1. Connecting downtown Bartow with Polk Community College, the 7.75-mile Fort Fraser Trail is a paved path paralleling US 98. Oak hammocks and covered benches provide occasional shade, and inspirational quotes decorate the power line poles. Stop at the Highland City Trailhead in Highland City to refill your water bottles.
  2. At Lakeland Highlands Scrub, watch for gopher tortoise burrows and scan the scrub oaks for Florida scrub-jays. A 0.6-mile, hiking-only loop and a 2.2-mile multi-use loop lead you through a variety of habitats.
  3. Bring your camera to Hickory Lake Scrub to record rare flora along the Lake Wales Ridge, including scrub morning glory on the 0.4-mile north loop.
  4. Swaying sand cordgrass accents Crooked Lake Prairie. The Scrub Trail loop, at 1.6 miles, leads you through open scrub and moss-draped oaks. The Lake View Trail, at approximately 0.4 miles, leads to a boardwalk perfect for birding. Group walk: Jan. 13 2008, 1:30 p.m.
  5. Trek a 2.2-mile, round-trip trail with panoramic views of pine flatwoods and marshes at SUMICA, taking a break at a sheltered observation deck along a sawgrass prairie. Group walk: Feb. 10 2008, 1:30 p.m.
  6. At Gator Creek Reserve, discover the Green Swamp along a network of dry trails. The birthplace of four Florida rivers, these woodlands are a mosaic of pine flatwoods, prairies, cypress domes and marshes. Group walk: March 8 2008, 9:00 a.m.
  7. A watery puzzle of fishing ponds parallel the floodplain of Saddle Creek, and the Saddle Creek Nature Trail winds among them on a 1.2-mile pathway that's part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Group walk: April 5 2008, 9:00 a.m.
  8. The Lake Wales Trailway, a paved 1.7-mile trail running through residential areas between Kiwanis Park and North Fourth Street, passes several marshes and offers views of Lake Wailes. Group walk: May 3 2008, 9:00 a.m.
  9. Coots chatter and herons squawk as you walk the 3-mile loop around Lake Hollingsworth, passing Florida Southern College, home of the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. Group walk: June 7 2008, 9:00 a.m.
  10. The series finale occurs at the Auburndale TECO Trail on Sept. 13, 2008, 9:00 a.m. - noon. This 5.5-mile paved path heads north past cattle ranches, orange groves and residential areas, starting at Denton Road in Auburndale and ending just past Interstate 4.

From the pristine Green Swamp to the scenic Lake Wales Ridge, central Florida's trails will provide that touch of nature you've been craving. It's hiking season, so "trek ten trails" and experience Polk County's natural beauty up close.