Long-sleeved T-shirts, bug spray, and working boots may not make your packing list when you’re headed to the beautiful beaches of Northwest Florida, but these were essentials on our lists when we headed to Panama City Beach for Southwest Airline’s opening weekend. While we definitely enjoyed our time on the beach, we learned there’s a lot more to this area than the emerald waters and sugary white sand. The two of us were part of about 20 Southwest Employees who Shared the Spirit by volunteering with the Florida Trail Association to clear hiking trails and build bridges in Florida Trail’s East Pine Log Trail in Pine Log State Forest. This section of the Florida Trail is only about four miles northwest of the northern boundary of the new airport. So, if you were traveling on our first flights out of Panama City Beach on May 23 and looked out your windows after takeoff, you may have seen us down on the ground with our orange hard hats and blue T-shirts. From hauling lumber as a team effort with our Coworkers to toasting with Gatorade after the day was finished, this will certainly be a volunteer experience neither one of us will ever forget. Here’s what a few Employees had to say about their experience: What a fun and rewarding experience helping to build Florida scenic trails! Our group definitely exceeded the Southwest Airlines "must be able to lift 70 pounds" requirement. Thank you to everyone at the Florida Trail Association for showing us the importance of preserving nature, all of their dedicated volunteers, and to the person who invented bug spray. - Alison Hoefler, Manager Community Affairs & Grassroots We all tend to think of Florida as palm trees and beaches (which Panama City Beach definitely lives up to its reputation of the world's most beautiful beaches with their emerald green waters and sugar-white sand beaches), but there are also lush forests with pine trees and woodland animals in the area too! What a beautiful combination for a state and thanks to the Florida Trails Association for introducing us to theses wonders along their trails! - Amy Marhoefer, Marketing Brand Engagement The passion that the Florida Trails Association employees had was definitely contagious. It was certainly difficult but you were left with wanting to do more! Amazing and rewarding experience is how I would describe this volunteer effort! - Anabell Odisho, Coordinator Community Affairs & Grassroots My Team was responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the hiking path, we spent a lot of time trimming branches and picking up trash. Aside from the "work," I also had the opportunity to see, first-hand, much of nature in its rawest form--carnivorous plants, crawfish dugouts, and swarms of mosquitoes--things you only read about in nature magazines. I had never hiked before so this volunteer experience was completely new to me on all levels. Before we even embarked on the trail, I had already concocted several scenarios of encountering snakes and alligators, and how loud I would need to scream to scare them away. Of course, my experience was far less threatening than I had imagined. And, I have a much better appreciation for hikers and specifically, the Members who volunteer their time to keep the Florida National Scenic Trail enjoyable for those hiking the trail. Overall, this Share the Spirit event has to be the most unique volunteer job I've ever participated in my 11+ year at Southwest Airlines. - Meniza Bannister-Carl, Specialist Marketing Customer Loyalty and Partnership I thought this Share the Spirit event was particularly rewarding. There is something so neat about being able to literally see the hard work you did. Additionally, The Florida Trails Association and their volunteers were so passionate about their cause, and they really appreciated what we were doing to help out. I was so excited that our Southwest Team was able to contribute to Northwest Florida in a way that will be enjoyed by Florida citizens and visitors for years to come. - Rachel Barry, Coordinator Community Affairs & Grassroots After reading "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson, I was quite impressed with the Appalachian Trail (which runs from Georgia to Maine) but never thought about the hundreds of simple efforts that hundreds of people do to help everyone else along the way. The 1,500 miles of Florida trails (and all of the national trails) are maintained almost entirely by volunteers, each helping in his/her own area doing what he/she can. It is no one agency, nor government, nor individual's job. People do it for the love of the hike. I just find it fantastic that in this day of modernity, people still care about the simple act of taking a hike and enjoying the outdoors for a few hours or maybe several months at a time, and that so many people along the way help where and when they can. Somehow it all gets done. Florida has a lot to offer, and I have nothing against Walt's dream, but a day on the Florida Trail is the exact OPPOSITE of a Disney experience. Almost no one who crosses that bridge will know about my participation in it, but I am proud to have helped build that bridge. No one does it for the recognition. - Steve Heaser, Senior Multi-Media Specialist Thanks again to the Florida Trail Association for making our experience so memorable and rewarding. Now we just need another trip to Panama City Beach so we can actually hike through these areas that we worked in!
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