Always on the lookout for a novel way to explore, we jumped at the opportunity to “hike” through the maritime forests of northeast Florida on Segways® with EcoMotion Tours.
Segways are two-wheeled, battery powered vehicles that you ride standing up. EcoMotion Tours, owned and operated by Maren and Greg Arnett, takes nature enthusiasts through the Timucuan Preserve in Fort George Island Cultural State Park on one-hour and two-hour tours. We were far from the first to enjoy this novel way of exploring. In the past four years, 7,000 people have done it.
Before getting on the trails, we spent 15 minutes in a training session conducted by the owners. We learned how to step on the platform between the two wheels and let the Segway read our balance. A gentle lean forward propelled me forward. A gentle lean backward stopped the Segway. A stronger lean backward set it in reverse, but it was far easier and safer to simply rotate it around.
All I had to do to turn left was turn a control on the handle bar left. If I turned the same control right, the Segway turned right. So simple! So intuitive! That’s my kind of machine! And if anyone doubted their capability, Maren soothingly eased them into feeling comfortable. Within minutes, our group of six riders was boldly maneuvering around a series of cones.
We were trail ready. For the next two hours, we rode on sandy trails under a canopy of maritime pines, oaks and palms. Greg entertained us with stories about the area’s history, the Timucuan Indians, gopher tortoises and native plants – all easily heard through headphones. Maren rode rearguard, guiding any riders who strayed off course. With wide off-road tires inflated to only 4 psi, the Segway gave a smooth ride, even over tree roots, with minimal impact on the environment. The battery-operated motor hummed quietly, which won over Ms. Anti-Noise Pollution here.
Midway we toured the Kingsley Plantation, a sea island cotton plantation in the 1800s. Ruins of slave cabins made of tabby (oyster shell construction) and Kingsley’s home still stand on the National Park Service site. A garden displays plants grown at that time: sea island cotton, sugar cane, indigo.
The preserve is a feast for birdwatchers. A bald eagle soared overhead, chasing an osprey with a fish in its talon. Along an inlet, we saw dozens of pelicans and ibises roosting in trees. Egrets and roseate spoonbills perched on the banks.
All too soon, the tour was over. As a finale, Greg let us cruise the training grounds at full speed – 9 mph. Everyone was reluctant to step off their Segways and turn in their helmets. We’ll just have to come back!