A tiny baby manatee in Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park sticks his whiskered nose out of the clear waters as naturalist John Davis takes the first paddle strokes of what will become a 4,500-mile environmental odyssey. His journey, called TrekEast, is designed to raise awareness about the need to preserve wilderness corridors along the East Coast of the United States (view trail map).
Somewhat of an ambassador for all the endangered creatures, Davis will be advocating as he kayaks, bikes and hikes from the Florida Keys all the way north to Canada. With the tanned muscular arms of a seasoned triathlete, he navigates a blue, sea-weathered kayak into the dark mangrove tunnels, leading a caravan of seven eco-enthusiasts in their own candy-colored crafts. In tighter spots, the paddlers play mangrove limbo, pulling themselves along low-hanging branches, with only the cicadas’ song breaking the silence, as small schools of snapper, hogfish and baitfish flit just below the surface.
The day’s sun filters through the green leaves like stained glass, while Davis, sponsored by conservation organization Wildlands Network, educates the group about connecting Florida’s diverse wildlife and 54 endangered species to the rest of the country.
“Florida has done a remarkably good job, but isolated areas cannot sustain themselves. It’s not too late, but as Bruce Springsteen said, ‘The door’s open, but the ride ain’t free,’” explains the passionate Davis. Asked what animal he most hopes to spot during his trip through Florida’s waterways, he immediately responds “the Florida panther.” And then, as if that’s too much to ask, he looks off wistfully and says with a smile, “I’d be happy just to see a paw print.”
You can track Davis’ progress as he departs from Key Largo paddling into the Everglades National Park, through the Ocala National Forest and into North Florida backcountry, sharing all of his adventures and discoveries at twp.org/trekeast/blog.