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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The U.S. Forest Service presented its comprehensive 5-Year Strategic Plan for the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST) during a meeting of the FNST coalition partners at Mission San Luis on Wednesday, June 6.
The FNST is a federally-designated non-motorized recreation trail, which was started by a dedicated group of hikers in the 1960s. The trail consists of 1,079 designated scenic miles and is the only National Scenic Trail that explores a semi-tropical ecosystem.
Although the U.S. Forest Service is the federal administrator for the trail, it relies on its close association with the Florida Trail Association and other coalition members to help oversee this national treasure. Volunteers play an invaluable role in the maintenance of the FNST and the implementation of the strategic plan.
“We wanted a plan that highlighted priorities that land managers could focus on. In addition, we wanted to provide them with a document that they could refer to as we work together to achieve our common goals,” said Forest Supervisor Susan Matthews for the National Forests in Florida.
The plan focuses on four goals, which include adding 100 miles of designated trails to FNST, standardizing 100% of the FNST, proactively engaging FNST land managers in the maintenance and promotion of their segment of the trail, and clearly branding and promoting the FNST and its significance.
“The new FNST Strategic Plan is a concise and excellent document that will serve as an effective guide for advancing the Florida National Scenic Trail,” said Jim Wood of the Office of Greenways and Trails. “We are very pleased to be a part of the coalition effort led by the Forest Service, which has brought together a team to reach its first critical milestone with completion of this plan.”
The coalition partners, volunteers and public were invited to comment on the strategic plan at this open-door meeting. Concerns were raised about the FNSTs ability to support multiple-use, such as biking and horseback riding. In addition, volunteers voiced their concerns about their role in the process.
According to Carlos Schomaker, president of the Florida Trails Association, FTA volunteers do a lot of trail management and construction. Schomaker believes to make the plan successful the Forest Service and land managers will need to integrate them into the plan so that there’s a feeling, “we’re all working together.”
Trails Manager Jim Schmid gave an overview of trail classification and standards, announcing that the National Forests in Florida is currently updating all trail data in GIS, a project which should be completed within two years.
“This strategic plan is the first step forward in an evolutionary collaborative process with our coalition partners,” said Schmid.
Other issues discussed were the identification and preservation of cultural resources and sensitive ecological areas along the trail.
“This is the way it is supposed be,” said Shelli Bischoff-Turner with environmental consulting firm Conservation Impact. “Here’s the plan, here’s the accomplishments and here’s the deliverables.”
For more information and updates visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/fnst to get the latest information on the progress being made on the FNST.