GLADES COUNTY — The Florida Trail Association (FTA) has designated Glades County as a Gateway Community. The FTA’s Gateway Community program recognizes communities near the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST or “the Trail”) whose businesses and residents are supportive of trail users.
In Glades County, the FNST follows 56 miles along the western side of Lake Okeechobee between the county line near Clewiston and the Kissimmee River.
“We’re very pleased that our local FTA chapter pursued the Gateway Community designation,” said Glades County Commission Chair Tim Stanley. “The program will help reinforce the important relationship between trail users and local businesses, as well as promoting the Florida Trail regionally and nationally.”
The non-profit FTA was founded by volunteers in 1964. The organization worked for nearly two decades to bring together public agencies and private land owners to connect existing trails with new paths throughout the state. In 1983, the Florida Trail received congressional designation as a national scenic trail, which resulted in a continuing partnership between the FTA and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).
The FTA and USFS train and manage thousands of volunteers annually who continue to build and regularly maintain the entire 1,584 miles of the FNST throughout the state. The Trail extends from the Big Cypress National Preserve in the south to the Gulf Islands National Seashore in the panhandle.
“We’re looking forward to helping promote Glades County businesses in thanks for their continued hospitality toward trail users,” said FTA Gateway Community Program Coordinator Hailey Dansby. “Everyone I spoke with here has been very welcoming and enthusiastic.”
The Glades County section of the FNST around Lake Okeechobee is mostly paved, which makes it a popular choice among cyclists as well as hikers. The Trail is directly adjacent to two Glades County Parks which provide free parking, shade pavilions and restrooms. There are also several locally-owned restaurants near the Trail within the City of Moore Haven and the communities of Lakeport, Harney Pond area and Buckhead Ridge.
“Our FTA Founder, Jim Kern, conducted part of his initial trail surveys in Glades County in 1964,” said local FTA Trail Coordinator, Kate Adams. “The residents of Glades County have supported trail users for decades, and we’re grateful that this tradition will continue with the help of the Gateway Community program. Now that the Herbert Hoover Dike construction project is completed, we expect to see an increase in Trail activity in the 2023-24 season.”
The FTA will install a public information kiosk later this year at a location to be determined by Glades County officials. Local businesses will also be invited to participate in the FTA Passport program, which allows trail users to get a stamp of the places they have visited along the Trail.
“This is only the second time in FTA history that an entire county (rather than a city) has received Gateway Community designation,” said local chapter chair Margaret England. “Glades County residents can be proud of this honor.”
The Florida Trail splits into two paths at two locations (east and west), around the perimeter of Lake Okeechobee and in central Florida along two corridors that bypass the Orlando area.
Several hundred thru-hikers travel the entire length of the Trail annually, most often between January and March. Others may hike or bike a particular section, many of them from other states and other countries. Thru-hikers will typically travel an average of 1,100 miles (of the total 1,584 miles of the Trail) over a period of 60-120 days.
“I try to speak with trail users whenever I can,” said Adams. “While doing Trail recon in our section over the past several months, I’ve met people from over a dozen different states and two countries in addition to the locals who use the Trail for their morning or evening walks & bike rides. I’ve consistently heard about happy experiences on the west side of the lake.”
The local FTA chapter serving Glades and Hendry Counties hosts activities on the FNST as well as the three trails within the Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area in Glades County. For more information about the FNST and activities of the local FTA chapter, contact Trail Coordinator Kate Adams by phone at 865-617-2100 or email to FTAGladesHendry@yahoo.com.