Sand Pine, Silver Water, and Service in Ocala National Forest, Florida

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13448A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Leave gray landscapes to play in clear rivers, lakes, and springs
  • Exchange white snow for white sand
  • Protect a unique ecosystem -- the largest of its kind in the world 


  • Hearty, healthy camp food for all meals, except dinner on our day off
  • Camp in the largest sand pine forest on earth
  • Meaningful work that benefits a truly special place 


DatesMar 17–23, 2013
StaffTom Brown

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Trip Overview

The Trip

This is a really beautiful place to spend a week in winter! The Ocala National Forest, one of central Florida's last remaining traces of forested land, comprises 383,220 acres in north-central Florida, north of Orlando. The Ocala's sand pine scrub ecosystem is the world's largest continuous forest of this type. Native to Ocala, the sand pine is the only tree capable of growing to a usable timber size in this forest's dry, sandy soil. The variety of topography and vegetation found in the Ocala National Forest includes salt springs, lakes and rivers, palmetto bushes, sand oaks, subtropical vegetation, slash pine, hardwood hammocks, and cypress. Trails range from interpretive to canoe, hiking to bicycle -- including the Florida National Scenic Trail, which runs north-to-south through the Ocala.

Florida's ecosystems face unique threats from development and overuse as more people move to and visit the warm climate of Florida's central area. Despite the fact that the Ocala receives more visitors than any other Florida forest, its size and undeveloped atmosphere make it seem remote and undisturbed. As always, our federal resource agencies are faced with a myriad of tasks and our work will help allow staff more time for native ecosystem management and program development.

We'll work four full days with one day off. On your day off you’re free to choose from a wide selection of activities: swimming and snorkeling in the nearby rivers, lakes, and springs; hiking; birding; cycling; horseback riding; fishing; or canoeing/kayaking. Rental bicycles, horses, and canoes are available, but not included in the trip price. Day trips to Daytona Beach, Orlando, or Mt. Dora are within easy reach of your camp. Your trip leaders can help you decide what to do and how to contact an outfitter. 

The Project

Our specific service projects are not yet identified, but your trip leaders will be communicating often with our Forest Service partners and will update you about the projects as the trip nears. Nevertheless, it’s best to come with an open mind and flexible attitude because projects may change at the last minute, based on Forest Service needs. Service projects in previous years have included: wildlife habitat restoration, rare plant monitoring, alien plant removal, pond surveys, and tree planting. Evenings may be spent hiking the nearby trails, birding, or just relaxing in this beautiful ecosystem. After-dark stargazing is astonishing due to the low light pollution at our campground.



Day 1: Arrival day. Your winter break begins with your arrival in camp. Leaders will be on site at 2:00 p.m. Please plan your travel so that you arrive in camp with enough time to get set up and organized before our first activity, an orientation meeting at 5:00 p.m. Our first meal will be Sunday dinner following orientation. After dinner we’ll spend time getting to know each other and perhaps picking out constellations in the night sky.

Days 2-3: We’ll begin on service projects as identified by our Forest Service partners. We will make every effort to locate worksites close to the campsite, but please understand that Ocala NF is a very big place and it may take as long as 45-60 minutes to drive to our work site. We’ll carpool to the work site, and we’ll pack a lunch to take with us. We won’t return to our campsite until the end of the work day.

Day 4: Today is our day off and your chance to explore the area. We’ll have breakfast and pack a lunch to take on our day’s activities, and then you’re free to head out. You'll have many different options for day-off activities. Your leaders will be spending the day kayaking on the nearby Silver River and anyone is welcome to join. Please remember that the cost of your day-off activities and tonight's dinner are not included in the trip price.

Days 5-6: We’ll finish our service project and exchange high-fives all around for a job well done. On Friday night we’ll have a farewell dinner, including a few surprises.

Day 7: Departure day. The trip ends with breakfast Saturday morning. Afterward we’ll break camp, say good-bye to new friends, and enjoy a well-earned sense of satisfaction for helping to improve and protect an important ecosystem. Please plan your departure so that you can remain in camp until at least 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning to help organize and stow group gear. Have a great trip home and don’t forget to pack a few fun memories.

Note: the leaders will make every reasonable effort to meet the goals outlined in the itinerary. Please keep in mind that weather or other conditions beyond our control may cause us to modify the itinerary in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the group.



Getting There

If you’re flying, we suggest that you arrive and depart from Orlando International Airport (MCO). This airport has an extensive schedule of flights, generally reasonable airfares, and an array of rental car agencies. The Ocala National Forest is located about 65 miles north of Orlando; allow 90 minutes for drive time. You'll receive complete directions to the meeting place prior to the trip.

Carpooling is encouraged, and your leaders will provide a participant roster to assist you in making carpool arrangements. To help us prepare the roster, please send us your arrival and departure times as soon as you know them. If you’re driving to camp, the roster will let you know about other participants you might pick up on your way. If you’re flying into Orlando, the roster will have information about participants’ arrival times so you can meet up at the airport.

For more information, you can check the websites for MCO flight schedules: and rental cars:

Accommodations and Food

We will stay at a quiet, shady, auto-accessible, group campsite with a bath house that contains hot showers and bathrooms. (Participants must provide their own tent, sleeping bag, and mattress.) Meals will feature hearty, healthy menus with plenty of variety. We will continue the Sierra Club tradition of sharing the daily cooking and cleaning duties. On Wednesday, our day off, breakfast and lunch are provided, but dinner is at your own expense at your choice of restaurants. Please discuss any special dietary needs with the leaders prior to signing up for this trip.

Trip Difficulty

Our goals are simple: safety, fun, and learning. Most activities will be moderately strenuous, however you’ll never be asked to do anything that you feel is beyond your ability, strength, or endurance. We will take regular breaks and you’re free to take additional water, shade, and rest breaks whenever necessary.  

Equipment and Clothing

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad or air mattress
  • Work boots (well broken-in)
  • Work gloves (well broken-in)

A detailed equipment list will be sent closer to departure date.

Sierra Club provides group gear such as kitchen articles and stoves. Work equipment will be provided by the Forest Service.



  • The Sierra Club Guide to the Natural Areas of Florida
  • National Audubon Society Field Guide to Florida
  • O'Keefe, M. Timothy, Hiking Central Florida: A Guide to 30 Great Walking and Hiking Adventures.



One evening will feature a conversation with the district ranger or a wildlife biologist about specific challenges that the Ocala National Forest faces. Another evening will feature a conversation about Leave No Trace principles, followed the next day by an outdoor lab for putting the principles to work.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Ocala National Forest.



Tom Brown has a lifetime of outdoor experience. He's a bicyclist, backpacker, fisherman, and hiker. Tom is a certified snow skiing instructor, certified in Wilderness First Aid, and he's active as a trail maintainer on the Appalachian Trail in his home state of Virginia. He has a passion for sharing the outdoors with others and believes that the best way to instill a spirit of conservation is simply to spend time with nature. Tom was the Leader of this trip last year, too.


Francy Rubin is an early retired physical therapist/athletic trainer who loves having time to spend outdoors. She is a strong believer in the concept of giving back and has lived this motto with activities ranging from weekly trail maintenance on the Appalachian Trail to 5 years spent volunteering in Mexico. Francy leads Sierra Club backpacking, hiking, and service trips throughout the U.S. and Virgin Islands. She revels in helping others enjoy the outdoors and was the Co-leader of this trip last year.

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