The Florida Trail would not exist if it weren’t for the many volunteers in the 1960s and 70s who dedicated their free time to the building and development of hiking trails across the state of Florida. Later these trails would be pieced together to create the Florida National Scenic Trail in 1983. For many, their volunteer work on the trail provides a sense of ownership and of accomplishment. For others, volunteering on the Florida Trail can cultivate a passion for the outdoors and provide skills to pursue a career in public lands management. Jeanene Dole, a volunteer in the Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Trail Association (FTA), is a great example a volunteer who learned hard skills that later transferred to future employment. Here is her trail story.
I was looking to do some trail work to find out more about the area. I also wanted to meet people with similar interests. I found the Central Florida Chapter and joined their Meetup.com group. I soon started attending chapter meetings, participating in the volunteer trail work events. I was impressed with how organized the chapter is and how welcoming they were.
An important moment for me that was representative of why I was out there doing this type of work happened at the end of a trail maintenance hike. A young couple with a child were hiking out and passed our group of volunteers. They thanked us for our work caring for the trail and they were so enthusiastic about their hike. That inspired my current motivation to create and protect something for other people to enjoy, especially future generations. I want to improve the environment and leave a good mark on the world. In fact, I believe that my experience doing trail maintenance with the FTA was a catalyst for how I ended up in the career I’m in now.
It felt like a natural transition for me to progress from doing trail work to my current work with prescribed fires. Doing trail maintenance in Florida physically prepared me for the hot and humid conditions of prescribed fire. In my first season of fire work, I felt well-adapted to the physical demands of the job. The social environment in the fire community is also similar to the FTA community. Like my experience volunteering with the FTA, I regularly meet a wide array of people with different backgrounds and important, unique qualities that they bring to the table.
I administered my first controlled burns in Florida, with the National Park Service in Big Cypress Preserve. Big Cypress burns the most acreage out of any national park system, so that was important exposure for me to this field of work. Since then I have done prescribed fires in South Dakota, Colorado, Nevada and currently, Idaho. I moved to Cascade, Idaho and I plan to return to Florida for a visit at the end of the fire season. I’m looking forward to volunteering again with the chapter in the winter and picking back up where I left off.