I first met Panda on the PCT in 2015. I was immediately and have continued to be struck by his big heart, beautiful spirit, and uncanny ability to see beauty in everything, everywhere. A super-creative person, he’s a wizard with black & white photography, making even the most “ordinary” life situations into art. Since we had only met briefly on the PCT, it was awesome to hang out and actually get to know him a bit better when I visited Florida in May 2017. It was an additional treat to not only check out his favorite local beach, where there were little sea turtle nests everywhere, but also to visit Pelican Island, the very first designated National Wildlife Refuge in the United States!

Name / Trail Name: Kenji / Panda

What’s your primary activity on public lands? My primary focus for public lands is to document the connection people may have with the surrounding environment: how their relationship evolves within themselves from the direct interaction with public lands and absorbing the teachings that nature may provide to grow a healthy and sustainable future that may develop not only the personal well-being of others, but also help future generations to be capable of overcoming environmental challenges that may be faced.

What do you do when you’re not hiking? In my personal time away from hiking, I am quite passionate about photography. The ability to capture the world around a single person’s perspective, set to the composition in which they view it, is quite a remarkable venture. To become a visual storyteller that can properly portray the individual lost among the land of endless possibility is my goal. I also take part in my journey to become a writer. Sometimes the only way to understand the immeasurable details that emerge from the environment and process of thought is via pen to paper: just a small story about life to be written in a universe not bound by time.

Why is Turtle Cove special to you? Turtle Cove is incredibly special to me, as it sits on a beautiful public lands white sand beach, surrounded by abandoned multimillion-dollar beachfront housing. It’s a place that during a troubling time in my life I stumbled upon. I watched pastel-painted clouds set along the crashing waves of the horizon, only to realize there was not a single person on the shore. At a time of lows, a warm realization that the most spectacular show on earth was happening and the only things to watch it were myself and my accompanying turtle eggs that get laid yearly. A new high was felt and my spirits were lifted. I now return weekly to clean and tend to my personal slice of paradise that’s open to all company, thanks to the availability of public land. 

How did you first learn of this space? I made a wrong turn on a road and ended up discovering the cove.

Any other favorite spots you recommend? Close by is Pelican Island, another wonderful place to visit. Surrounded by maze-like mangroves, wildlife and rivers, it is the very first National Wildlife Refuge in the United States, first established in 1903.