Florida Paddling Trails Association

Our History

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History of the
Florida Paddling Trails Association
and the
Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail

The idea of a paddling trail extending around Florida's peninsula was conceived by environmental lobbyist and paddler David Gluckman in the 1980s after seeing the establishment of the 350-mile Maine Island Trail system. But it wasn't until 2004 that the state of Florida began to seriously consider the possibility of a “circumnavigational” trail, based in part on the successful completion of the Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail from the Aucilla River to the town of Suwannee by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

In the fall of that year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT), at Gluckman's encouragement, hired Doug Alderson to begin scouting the trail. The first segments were in the Amelia Island and Panama City areas. Alderson, an avid outdoorsman and professional writer and photographer, had assisted in writing the guide for the Big Bend Trail.

In 2005, the circumnavigational trail (CT) was officially designated by the Florida Legislature as part of the Florida Greenways and Trails System (Title XVIII, Chapter 260 Florida Statutes). Scouting for the trail was completed in the summer of 2007. Another highlight that summer was the designation of the trail as a national recreation trail by the United States Department of Interior. As the trail neared completion, media outlets were helping to make the trail known to paddlers and the general public. Articles appeared in Undiscovered Florida/National Geographic Traveler, Canadian Geographic, The Palm Beach Post, The Tallahassee Democrat and other publications.

In October of 2007, Alderson organized a statewide gathering in Homosassa Springs to form an independent non-profit association to help maintain and improve the trail. More than 70 people took part in the history-making event. Regional representatives and segment “trail keepers” from throughout the state were chosen. A subsequent board meeting in Cedar Key adopted by-laws, set up committees to help operate the non-profit group, and agreed on an official name—the Florida Paddling Trails Association (FPTA).

For its first president, the new board elected Safety Harbor resident Hank Brooks, a retired business consultant and former president of the Tampa Bay Sea Kayakers. Board members attending that first meeting included Ray Hetchka of Fernandina Beach, Fred Borg of Panama City, Gerry Gaudet of Deerfield Beach, Krueger Nicholson of Long Key, Gary Breedlove of Tallahassee, Doug Alderson of Tallahassee, and Marv Phelps of Brooksville. The following month, in December of 2007, the FPTA was officially incorporated by the state of Florida, and the first e-newsletter was sent to almost a thousand interested persons around the state.

In February of 2008, two milestones were reached: the FPTA launched its website with help from Brooks, Alderson, Ed Schessl, John Norris and Bill Reynolds; and the first membership brochures were printed. The group began raising the initial funds necessary to operate the association.

Throughout 2008, the new volunteer operations manager, John Norris, and others began giving talks to paddling clubs around the state. It was soon realized that the majority of Florida paddlers enjoy paddling rivers and streams. It was decided to expand the FPTA scope to also cover river trails and to solicit trail keepers for rivers and to partner with existing paddling clubs. The FPTA began its evolution as an umbrella organization that embraced all paddling trails in Florida.  

In 2009, new interior regions and segments were added for a total of 15 regions and 32 segments statewide. On the website, Ed Schessl was contracted to merge information from the Florida Circumnavigational Paddling Trails and River Trails and User Trip Reports into one feature-packed section called "Paddling Trails."

With a grant from the Dunn Foundation, Hank Brooks spearheaded the Paddlers Environmental Toolkit Training program in 2009. Through this training, more than 350 paddlers were taught to recognize and report environmental problems and they learned basic plant and animal identification.

In 2010, work continued to add more paddling trails and trip reports to the website, to develop a comprehensive online calendar, and to fill board positions.  A new mission was also added: "A resource and voice for Florida paddlers." Dan Thompson and others began to raise more revenues through grants, memberships, and business sponsors to help the all-volunteer organization carry out its mission. Incoming president Tom McLaulin spearheaded the FPTA blueways communities project. By 2016, a total of 40 communities and 15 counties participated and earned recognition as paddling-friendly destinations.

The first statewide gathering of CT paddlers was held at Silver Springs State Park May 16-18, 2014, organized by OGT's Liz Sparks. FPTA was a main sponsor. It was believed that enough people had completed the entire trail to help build momentum by starting annual gatherings at different locations. "Trail angels", people who help paddlers on the trail, were honored. Six thru-paddlers were in attendance--Carl Anderson, Ian Brown, Jim Windle, Marc DeLuca, Gus Bianchi and Daniel Alvarez--along with people who had paddled significant sections of the trail and other interested parties. The Ocala Star Banner published a feature article about the gathering. Besides supporting the CT gathering, the FPTA contributed to the Florida Paddlers Rendezvous, the Hidden Coast Paddling Festival and the Loxahatchee River Race. 

In the fall of 2015, the FPTA board elected new leaders. Jill Lingard became president, Monica Woll was the new Secretary, Deb Akin agreed to serve as treasurer and Dan Thompson agreed to continue as vice president until spring when the position would be filled by Esther Luft. "Where water is concerned, I enjoy the intersection of recreation, discovery and stewardship," said incoming president Jill Lingard. "I have come to learn that FPTA fills that bill beautifully."

FPTA initiated the Legacy Fund in 2016. Volunteer donations coupled with a grant from Paddle Nation enabled 42 boys and girls to attend paddling camps around the state that summer.


Year President
Volunteer of Year
Hank Brooks
Hank Brooks
John Norris
Hank Brooks
Judy Engel
Hank Brooks
Esther Luft
Tom McLaulin
Dan Thompson
Tom McLaulin
Deb Akin
2013 Tom McLaulin Tom McLaulin
Tom McLaulin
Jill Lingard
Gus Bianchi

Citrus County Visitors & Convention Bureau

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