Reconnecting to Wild Florida
Growing up in rural, central Florida, Mason Gravely got to experience bits and pieces of undeveloped Florida. With eyes open after moving away for college, Gravley got to experience the natural wonders of the west coast such as the Grand Canyon, Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, and Mt. Rainier. Moving back to Florida with his family in 2020, Gravley made plans with two close friends to stay connected to each other and to reconnect to Florida’s quickly disappearing natural environment:
“…while we’re all together, let’s make sure we get out and explore as often as possible and do trips together do adventures. So, we committed to every eight weeks, we go out into Florida’s wildest places and have a trip like a paddling, camping biking experience.”
And so, every eight weeks Gravley, his friends, and others interested in seeing natural Florida strike out into Florida’s wilderness for the weekend; making new memories and experiences.
Minimizing Personal Impact on Florida’s Habitats
Moving back to Florida at a time when the state began to see a jump in population Gravley noted how people moving to the state want to enjoy the outdoors but feel that Florida’s wilderness is too far away for them to actually enjoy. During our conversation, Gravley noted that Florida’s wilderness is much closer than many people realize. If they go just a few more feet into the woods and plant more native plants, wild Florida will come to you. “However, we do need balance and there are people who need a place to live and whatnot. I’ve got to have my house, you know, but there are ways to do it. I only have a quarter acre in a little neighborhood… I’ve got three big old pine trees in the middle, a bunch of cabbage palms, and try to keep it as natural as possible. And the wild is there, you look out there and you’ll see snakes, you’ll see migratory birds, you’ll see giant gopher tortoises that have come through and it’s there’s a way to do and there’s a way to balance it…” When homeowners integrate their land into the habitat that surrounds them, however much they own, they provide additional connection points through Florida’s wildlife corridor and a safe place for Florida’s endangered plants and animals to thrive.
Giving Back to Conservation and Community
More than just an advocate for experiencing and protecting Florida’s environment, Gravley also works as the Lead Adventurer for the Athletic Brewing Company leading outdoor adventures for the company and running podcasts about adventuring across the country. One initiative of the Athletic Brewing Company that Gravley is very proud of is their donation of 2% of all sales are donated to park and trail maintenance, and conservation grants- he estimated that about $2 million gets put into this fund every year. One of the organizations that they provide funding to is the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation. On top of this, they also look to fund projects that help to promote and share community history. Mason recounted an in-the-works project to “…memorialize one of the beaches there that used to be one of the gathering places for the civil rights movement in southeast Florida. There’s nothing there to memorialize that. So, the Florida State Park Foundation said, ‘Hey, we have this cool project, would you be interested in funding?’” The company said yes and the project to preserve the community was underway.
Helping Floridians Explore Wild Florida
When Gravley returned to Florida and made the deal with his friends to explore wild Florida every eight weeks they expected to just be striking out together. But as their trips gained more attention, more people became interested in joining their excursions. Talking about this development Gravley said,
“And so every eight weeks, we go and paddle a whole river or bike around, cross the state do something to explore wild Florida. And quickly, other people want to join. So now we’re taking 20-30 people every eight weeks into a beautiful and wonderful experience. And it’s all in the Florida wildlife corridor. And through that experience, and through learning about what is being done here in Florida, to protect it.”
He also noted the lack of infrastructure here in Florida for exploring the wilderness compared to other states such as Colorado and feels that more needs to be done for Florida’s outdoors to feel more accessible and approachable to beginners just getting started in their adventuring days.
A Hope of a Connected Corridor
When asked about his hopes for the future of conservation in Florida, Gravley stated that he wants to see a fully realized Florida Wildlife Corridor one day. In answering the question Gravely said,
“I feel like in so many mountain towns and out west, it’s just part of the culture that these places should remain wild and beautiful and accessible. I want Florida to get there as well, where there’s just no second thought to why these places are important, and why they should remain protected. And every square foot of the corridor will be protected.”
Hoping for and planting the seeds of a mentality shift, Gravley is working to reach and educate Florida residents about Florida’s Wildlife Corridor and the expansive wilderness that lies just twenty feet away from our highways. By bringing people out into the corridor and sharing your experiences, you are helping to further the cause and mission of a completely connected corridor that traces its way through Florida.