On a sunny Saturday morning, trail ranger Billy Thomas is half way through his shift that adds up to 34 miles of territory.
As an employee of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) he takes seriously his role of protecting the areas surrounding the Nature Coast State Trail.
And his favorite part of the job is talking with people, he said, while picking up garbage sprinkled amongst the flowers growing along the trail that runs parallel to Highway 26 in Trenton.
Another bicyclist is heading his way so Thomas closes his truck door to make room. The back of the pickup is already filled with several bags of trash and recyclables by 10 a.m.
For the 75-year-old Thomas, the flexible schedule and the ability to get some exercise while meeting people makes this the perfect job.
After working for the United States Postal Service for three decades as a city carrier in Gainesville, the 1966 Gainesville High School graduate said he came very close to being drafted into the military to enter the Vietnam War.
“Uncle Sam came calling,” he said. But at the last minute his draft orders got canceled. So he took a job as a carrier and retired in 2003. By 2006, he was ready to work again. Now he maintains a schedule of three days on, then off one, then three days on and off for seven.
Thomas starts each shift at the FDEP main office in Fanning Springs and then rides the trails to Cross City and Trenton. Then he heads to Chiefland and takes that part of the trail back to Fanning Springs.
The trail is shaped like a Y with one starting point in Cross City leading to Fanning Springs where it splits to continue heading to Trenton. The other part of the path veers off to head to Chiefland. To see the trail map click here.
According to www.floridastateparks.org, the Nature Coast State Trail, “is just one of many abandoned rail beds in the Suwannee River Valley area, including the Withlacoochee State Trail and Palatka to Lake Butler State Trail.”
There are plans to extend the trail to Newberry and possibly beyond, the site states.
Thomas said he finds a lot of items on the trail as he cleans it.
“It all depends on the weather,” he said. “Or if people came out during the night and partied, you’d be surprised.
From clothing to beer bottles, “You name it,” he said.
On Thursdays and Fridays the trail rangers use a golf cart to pull an air device that blows leaves and dirt off the trail.
After a brief chat, Trail Ranger Thomas jumps into his truck and heads on down the trail to keep on schedule, leaving it cleaner than it was when he arrived.
If you are looking for things to do in your retirement, read this article.