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Take a hike on Weedon Island

(ran EAST edition)

Free, guided hikes offering an inside look at nature and history are expected to start next month at the Weedon Island Preserve in far northeast St. Petersburg.

They'll be held Saturday mornings starting at 9 a.m. and hikers should call ahead for reservations, said Craig Huegel, Pinellas County's environmental lands administrator. The number is 217-7208.

Weedon Island boasts wildlife, several varieties of Florida habitats and a rich history, including that of American Indians.

An archaeological era is named for the celebrated 1920s discovery of a pre-Columbian culture that thrived on what is now the preserve. And more than 200 species of wildlife have been documented.

Trained volunteer guides will escort hikers on a combination of boardwalks and trails. The 3-mile walks should take a couple of hours.

"We're not out power-walking. It's supposed to be relaxed," Huegel said.

It is the first time guided hikes have been offered at Weedon Island, which became a preserve in 1980. Such jaunts have been held for about four years at Brooker Creek Park in north Pinellas.

A few more volunteer guides are needed for the Weedon excursions, Huegel said.

He said basic requirements include being physically fit enough to hike the trail, an interest in learning Weedon's nature, history and management goals, and a willingness to work with the public.

"We've equipped the guides with a lot of knowledge. They're well-rounded," Huegel said.