TAMPA — Hillsborough County officials are offering residents fun activities to embrace the outdoors with the return of its four-month-long Hiking Spree.
Residents can register online for free to participate in the spree and download a list of trails provided by the county to keep track of which trails they hike. Hikes are rated from easy to moderate to strenuous, with multiple trails found in neighborhood parks, conservation parks, nature preserves, and Florida state parks.
Hikers who complete at least eight of the hikes on the trail list can earn a patch or medallion.
This year, Wyrd Vikings Inc. will be joining hikers along select trails once a month throughout the spree. The reenactment group will teach hikers about the Nordic way of life while also teaching about Florida native plants and animals.
There is a cost of $5 per person to attend one of the “Hiking with a Viking” excursions with the next available event scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 4, at Edward Medard Conservation Park, 6140 Turkey Creek Road, Plant City. Hikes kick off at 9 a.m. and go until 11:30 a.m.
Registration for this event is separate from the general Spree and the Feb. 4 Viking hike will go live on the county’s website within the next few days. Officials encourage interested hikers to keep checking its website as this event tends to fill to capacity quickly.
“Everybody is excited to have us officially back on the Hiking Spree,” said Michele Phillips, president of Wyrd Vikings, Inc. “We had done them for two years before COVID came in and they had to close down the parks. We had people who said they’ve been watching the county’s website hoping this would come up on the Hiking Spree again.”
All hikes are led by a park ranger with members of the Wyrd Vikings sharing banter and a bit of Old Norse thrown in. At the beginning of the hike, a ranger will lead participants to the trail head where they get to meet the Vikings in their full historical attire — blowing horns and bearing shields, spears, swords and more.
Hikers can learn about the park’s history as shared by the ranger during the hike, as well as what native plants and animals may be found at the park. The ranger will stop hikers at a Viking camp where a Viking tent will be set up with a couple of displays, projects being worked on, a faux campfire, and a staged interaction, before continuing on the hike with several more Vikings joining in.
Each Viking has their own character storyline they follow, and Phillips herself is known as Jarl Alfgaerdh Verdandibjorn. The jarl is a Norse chief.
“It’s been the people who have made it the most awesome thing ever,” Phillips said. “We invite everyone that has been on the hike to ask questions and hang out when the hike is over. We hand them our weapons and let them feel the weight of them or pick up plants and projects we’ve done.”
The last “Hiking with a Viking” is scheduled for Saturday, March 4 at Upper Tampa Bay Conservation Park, 8001 Double Branch Road, Tampa.
“I love when the rangers get to talk about their parks because they don’t always get to gush about all the cool stuff,” said Ashley Martin, program coordinator with the county’s Conservation and Environmental Lands. “The Vikings feed off that energy and make everyone feel comfortable. They are funny and engaging, making everyone feel comfortable on the hike.”
“Hiking with a Viking” isn’t the only extra activity residents can join in during the Spree. There is also a monthly Avian Adventure led by the Audubon Society at Lettuce Lake Park in Tampa, and there has also been night hikes scheduled during the cooler winter months with more being planned.
Officials encourage participants to tag Hillsborough County on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with #TakeAHikeHC. To register, visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org/residents/recreation-and-culture/recreation/hiking-spree.
To learn more about Wyrd Vikings Inc. and how to get involved, visit www.wyrdvikings.org.