|Hunting and fishing trips are becoming more popular for vets.|
Stalking alligators in a swamp
is not the only way veterans can bond and heal during outdoor adventures in Florida. In May, the Legislature passed a bill designating certain portions of state forests hunting areas for injured active-duty military members and veterans. So far, there are six forests slated to host hunts-- Lake Wales Ridge in Polk County, Withlacoochee in the Hernando and Sumter county areas, Welaka near Orlando, Lake Talquin in Leon County, and the Twin Rivers and Big Shoals forests along the Suwannee River.
Jim Karels, director of the Florida Forest Service, says the Operation Outdoor Freedom events will be free for the wounded soldiers.
Local sponsors and volunteers will donate all the supplies and materials, such as special hunting blinds that can accommodate wheelchairs. The Jacksonville-based nonprofit Wounded Warriors Project will bring veterans to the events, and Forest Service employees will make sure things run smoothly.
"From our end, it's no expense to the state," Karels says. "It's being able to do something for the guys that have done so much for us."
The state hosted one hunt for wounded soldiers last year, Karels says, but is now looking to expand the program. Legislation designating special hunting areas is a first step. So far, nine hunts have been planned for this fall and spring, according to the state Department of Agriculture.