If you enjoy the variety of trails Hillsborough County has to offer, the Conservation and Environmental Lands Management staff could use your help.
Volunteers are needed to join the County Associated Trail Stewards, also known as the Trail CATS, a program designed to improve the hiking and equestrian trails all within the Hillsborough County Nature Preserves. There are three levels of involvement that can be led by individuals or include family participation.
“It’s something for our residents to do that’s fun that gets them on the trails, and it also helps the people who go to the trails,” said Jennifer Groff, business manager for CELM. “It impacts our staff because it takes the pressure off of them. We have so many acres and sites, there’s no way for them to possibly care for all of them all the time.”
It would take one preserve a month for three years for staff to go through all of the sites, Groff added. The Trail CATS play an important role in blazing and trimming trails, inspecting trails, and installing signs. They can also notify CELM staff when a trail has confusing intersections, trail hazards, or issues with maps by recording an issue through an app called Avenza.
Volunteers can reach out to become a Trail Scout, Trail Blazer, or Trail Boss. A Scout provides feedback by walking trails and identifying issues. A Blazer assists CELM staff by being hands-on with the maintenance of trails. A Boss can complete work orders compiled by CELM without supervision, as well as lead other volunteers.
Each level of involvement has its own requirements, and volunteers must be able to walk or hike between four to six miles.
“They’re a great group and wonderful people,” Groff said. “Who doesn’t want to get out and take a hike?”
Volunteer Joe Guidry has been participating in the Trail CATS program since it started in 2019, and he is now a Trail Boss. Guidry said he particularly enjoys being outdoors and seeing all of the wonderful lands that have been saved through the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program.
“You feel like you’re doing something in helping other people enjoy these lands,” Guidry said. “You’re making it more accessible to the public so they can see these beautiful sites preserved over 63,000 acres."
To learn more about Trail CATS and how to get involved, visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/residents/recreation-and-culture/conservation/county-associated-trail-stewards-trail-cats.