Seminole County trails, wilderness areas see attendance bloom as shutdown pushes visitors to great outdoors

SANFORD, Fla. — Seminole County’s motto is “Florida’s Natural Choice” and that has proven to be true in the age of pandemic shutdowns.

County leaders said the desire to get out of the house and enjoy fresh air resulted in a huge increase in traffic at trails and wilderness areas.

There was a packed parking lot Thursday morning at the Black Bear Wilderness Area just outside of Sanford.

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Rick Orr of Edgewater, who walks the trails often, decided to explore this part of the county today.

“I think it’s great,” Orr said. “People can take advantage of it. It seems like a wonderful combination to me.”

Because of COVID-19 lockdowns, more people are heading back to nature.

Officials said they have seen a 690% increase in visitors coming to wilderness areas around the county.

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“Unlike some other communities we decided to leave our parks and trails open because we understood the benefit of letting people get outside,” said Seminole County Commissioner Jay Zembower.

When the pandemic began and theme parks and other businesses shut down, Seminole County promoted their parks and wilderness areas.

“And what we have learned is even our surrounding counties have come over to enjoy our trails,” Zembower said.

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He said visitors are also spending money at local businesses.

Because of the increase in foot traffic, commissioners recently approved spending $482,000 to make improvements to the boardwalk at the Black Bear Wilderness Area and to expand the parking lot.

They are also looking at using grant money to interconnect trails.

Jeff Levkulich

Jeff Levkulich,

Jeff Levkulich joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in June 2015.