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Summer Connections Newsletter, Office of Greenways and Trails

Florida Greenways and Trails Connections

Cumberland to Timucuan Trail Designated

Rider on the Amelia Island Trail in Little Talbot State Park by Doug Alderson

The Florida Greenways and Trails Council unanimously voted in June to designate the Cumberland to Timucuan Trail as part of the Florida Greenways and Trails System. When complete, the trail will be 38 miles long and will connect two national parks, five state parks, two states, three counties and three towns.

The trail starts at the Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia and runs through Amelia Island in Florida. The trail is the northernmost Florida segment of the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway.

"Our community goal is to help Amelia Island become the best place in Florida to safely walk, run or bicycle," said Phil Scanlan, CEO of the Friends of Amelia Island Trail, Inc. "This goal can be accomplished only with team support from our city and county for safe local trail connections, along with state and federal grants for Regional and National Trail paths."

Designation will help improve eligibility for both federal and state grants needed to close trail gaps and provide amenities for trail users. 

The Council also designated the 2,987-acre Hungryland Slough Natural Area in Palm Beach County and the Oak Trails Park and Trail in Broward County as part of the Florida Greenways and Trails System.

Working Cooperatively on a Regional Trail System

Pinellas Trail users by Doug Alderson

By Brian Smith, Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation

As we look to the future, the subject of trails is broadening. In the past, we thought of trails with a single identity. However, now with the concept of regional trails connecting communities and various destinations, the concept of a single identity is no longer easy to apply.

What is emerging is a set of regional trails with expanded identities that encompass several communities and their individual trails. Those of us in the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation think this is beneficial because it creates a dialogue between these communities. The Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail is a good example.

The trail is composed of several existing trails with strong community identification. This creates an atmosphere of working together toward a common goal - the completion of the regional trail and then cooperatively managing it.

We currently have about 15 regional trails in the works in Florida. These trails are not viewed as competitors but more as groups with a mutual interest of furthering their programs.

The Office of Greenways and Trails and the Florida Greenways and Trails Council are putting the finishing touches on a statewide plan for trails. This plan should be completed by this December. Regional trails are a key initiative within that plan. The Foundation will network with the various teams of communities and agencies to further these regional programs.

We will continue to focus on connecting communities and finding ways for communities to help each other!

New Bridge Connects 28 miles of Jacksonville Trails

pedestrian bridge in Duval County courtesy of Duval County

By Colin Moore, Project and Grant Coordinator, City of Jacksonville Parks, Recreation & Community Services Department

This July saw the completion of a 245-foot pedestrian bridge connecting the natural surface trail network at the city of Jacksonville's Cedar Point Preserve to the trails of the National Park Service's (NPS) Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. This bridge project was envisioned decades ago and was realized with the award of a Federal Land Access Program grant in 2016.

Cedar Point Preserve consists of approximately 631 acres of conservation land owned and managed by Jacksonville. Recreational opportunities include 6.3 miles of trails available to hikers, off-road bicyclists and horseback riders as well as picnic facilities, wildlife viewing and scenic overlooks.  

The NPS Cedar Point Property is directly east of the city's preserve across marshland and tidal Pumpkin Hill Creek. The NPS property is composed of 420 acres of oak hammock, pine flatwoods and pine plantation and is bordered by salt marsh and tidal creeks on three sides. There are numerous cultural resources including several archaeological sites and the remains of historic structures associated with a plantation. Recreational opportunities include 4.4 miles of trails, fishing, birding and a boat ramp facility with access to the Intracoastal Waterway. 

Jacksonville and the NPS are part of a partnership along with the Florida Park Service in this area called the Timucuan Trail State and National Parks. The partners collaborate on park planning and resource management to provide a seamless experience for visitors as they navigate from one connected property to the next. Trail connectivity has also been established between the city's Cedar Point Preserve and the adjacent state park property, Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park, as well as two other adjoining city-owned preserves, Betz-Tiger Point Preserve and Jim Wingate Preserve. 

Completion of the bridge project marks the last major hurdle to seamlessly connect nearly 28 miles of trails on five adjacent conservation lands totaling 5,526 acres managed by the national and Florida park services and the city.

Spring Paddlesports Training Held

Spring 2018 paddlesports training group by Doug Alderson

Thirteen paddlers completed the three-day ACA Coastal Kayak Day-Trip Leader course at Lake Louisa State Park in May.

The course, coordinated by OGT, trains people to be skilled leaders so paddling is safer and more enjoyable for everyone and establishes more volunteer paddling trip leaders in Florida’s state parks.

Russell Farrow of Sweetwater Kayaks and Kim Munshower and Wayne Douchkoff taught the course. Besides trip leading guidelines, several types of rescues were taught. To pass the course, participants had to perform a self-rescue and assisted rescue. The next training will be held in the fall at Lake Louisa.

“I could not imagine a better three days of intense learning,” said participant Ray Steed. “The instruction was a good eye opener in how much there is to learn and practice. I am certain the trips I lead and participate in will be safer because of this opportunity.”

Participant Laurie White added, “What an excellent class - great leaders and collaboration among attendees. Loved it, even with all the dunkings.”

Summer 2018

Titusville Designated as Florida’s Second Trail Town

Titusville Welcome Center that includes a bike shop, by Doug Alderson

Titusville, located along Florida’s East Coast, was designated Florida's second official Trail Town at the June 2018 Florida Greenways and Trails Council meeting.

Titusville sits at the convergence of three long-distance trails - Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail, East Coast Greenway and the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop. The town's steps to becoming a Trail Town included forming a trails committee, spearheading efforts to build a bicycle/pedestrian bridge over their busiest thoroughfare, Garden Street, revamping downtown streets to be more bicyclist/pedestrian friendly, and opening a new visitor center in 2017 that includes a bike shop inside. An eight-minute video produced by the town shows their Trail Town evolution.

“We could not be more proud and excited about being designated Florida’s second Trail Town by the Department of Environmental Protection," said Mayor Walt Johnson. “The city recognizes the economic impact and importance of becoming a Trail Town. We continue to work diligently to become the premier destination and Trail Town in the state. Our downtown merchants are excited and beginning to see the increase in their businesses by those trail users who eat, shop, and enjoy our unique offerings." 

DEP’s Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) encourages interested communities to conduct self-assessments to gauge their strengths and weaknesses in relation to nearby trails and users. Trail Town candidates fill out an application and are then considered for approval by the legislatively-established Florida Greenways and Trails Council. To recognize Florida’s Trail Towns, designated Trail Towns are featured on the OGT website and given metal signs that can be placed at trailheads and town gateways along with stickers for the windows of businesses.

 "Titusville earned this designation by taking strong steps over the years to become more pedestrian and bicycle friendly," said Doug Alderson, OGT Assistant Bureau Chief. “We hope many more towns will follow their footprints.”

Trails Connect Us

Florida National Scenic Trail near White Springs by Doug Alderson

By Eric Draper, Florida Park Service Director

When it comes to Florida trails, there’s a lot to be excited about, especially the opening of a new section of the Florida National Scenic Trail in Big Shoals State Park.

This newly added three-mile section of trail between Osceola National Forest and the town of White Springs eliminated five miles of road walking. This kind of connection is the best investment we can make. The full promise of trails is realized when they link different places together.

I’m reminded of a story a friend told me about the Tanglefoot Trail, which links the Mississippi towns of Pontotoc and Houston. There was an elderly man named Ron who lived in Pontotoc. Ron had not seen a childhood friend for many years because the friend lived in Houston and neither of them had cars. When Tanglefoot Trail opened in 2013, residents of Pontotoc and Houston could easily cycle between the two towns instead of braving narrow, winding rural roads. His son bought Ron a bicycle, and Ron joined a growing renaissance in the relationship between the two small towns and reconnected with his childhood friend.

What really surprised me was that the distance between the two towns was over 20 miles, but the trail and a community cycling club had generated so much enthusiasm that people of all ages were using it. It connected the towns and their residents and provided a fitness opportunity as well.

That’s what trails do. They connect us, improving our lives and our health. The designation of Dunedin and recently Titusville as Florida Trail Towns shows that communities of all sizes are investing in trails and recognizing the real benefits and opportunities they offer to citizens.

I’m proud of the work that our staff, volunteers, legislators, and partners like the Florida Trail Association are doing to make sure that we’re more connected every day.   

East Coast Greenway Gaining Traction

East Coast Greenway riders crossing the Garden Street Bridge in Titusville by

By Paul Haydt, East Coast Greenway Florida Coordinator

The East Coast Greenway (ECG) spine route extends 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida. The Florida segment will be the longest trail in any state along the route, spanning 600 miles from Fernandina Beach to Key West.

Of the planned 600 miles of off-road trails, over 200 miles are finished and completely off-road. This year, over 25 new miles of trail in four different counties are scheduled to be completed.  

One of the highest priorities for the Florida East Coast Greenway is the 20-mile Florida City Gap between Miami and Key Largo, where the current on-road travel route is along busy U.S. Highway 1. When the Florida City Gap safe off-road trail is completed, the already completed 35 miles of ECG route between Miami Beach and Homestead — the state’s largest metropolitan area — will be connected to the 106-mile Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, part of the ECG and one of the world's most recognized natural resource and recreational destinations. With major airports along the route, completion of this 20-mile trail gap will open tourism markets to accomplished cyclists and a wide range of walkers, hikers and cyclists.

The city of Jacksonville’s 50-mile loop trail project, the Core 2 Coast Loop, is one of the most exciting ECG trail developments to emerge in the last year. Jacksonville issued a proposal for the loop to be added into the ECG spine route. What makes this project so valuable and attractive to the ECG is that the trail will enhance both north bank and south bank developments along the St. Johns River. It will connect through major industrial and business redevelopment areas of the city associated with the Jacksonville Jaguar Stadium area and support long-desired community enhancement and redevelopment efforts in some of Jacksonville's older neighborhoods. 

In support of Jacksonville and to highlight and add momentum to its Core 2 Coast Loop Trail Program, the East Coast Greenway Alliance has selected Jacksonville to host the 2019 Second Biannual Southeast Greenways and Trails Summit. The program will provide a stage for Florida and Jacksonville to showcase the tremendous ongoing trail efforts as well as present the trail industry and trail managers the opportunity to demonstrate trail techniques and materials that will guide the efforts.

New Segment of Capital City to the Sea Trails Opens

Capital City to Sea Trails postcard

A new 12-mile segment of the Coastal Trail, a component segment of the Capital City to the Sea Trails plan in Wakulla County, is now open for use.

This paved multi-use trail winds through trees along the wide right-of-way of U.S. 98 from the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail to Wakulla High School. Two other Coastal Trail segments are currently being designed and are funded for construction in the next two to four years. The Ochlockonee Bay Bike Trail will connect the coastal village of Panacea to Wakulla High School. A three-mile segment running east of the Tallahassee-St. Marks Trail to Lighthouse Road is currently being designed. 

"This clearly demonstrates how a project can be completed from planning to construction in five years," said Jack Kostrzewa, Planning Manager of the Capital Region Transportation Planning Agency (CRTPA). "The CRTPA Board needs to be commended for committing their own funds for the environmental study, design and construction of the Coastal Trail. They are truly a group of elected officials who know what it takes to get positive results in a short period of time. We are all excited about this trail and future construction from Wakulla High School to Surf Road."

Kostrzewa also credited the Florida Greenways and Trails System Plan, coordinated by the Office of Greenways and Trails, and the Florida Department of Transportation's Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail Program for helping to make the vision come to fruition. A ribbon cutting for the segment will be held in October.

Upcoming Trail Events

Florida National Scenic Trail hikers by Doug Alderson

It is not too early to prepare for exciting trail events in the fall since many require advance registration. A few are listed here, but be sure to check out the OGT online calendar for more.

September 29: National Public Lands Day and Bike Your Park Day

October 3-7: Hidden Coast Paddling Adventure in Cedar Key

October 5-7: Florida Trail Association National Trails Festival, DeLand

October 19-24: Paddle Florida's Suwannee River Wilderness Trail

October 20-21: Gainesville Cycling Festival

November 1-4: Paddle Florida Flagler Coastal Wildlife Experience

November 9-10: Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association Fall Fat Tire Weekend and Meeting, Deland

November 15-17: St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop Summit, Palatka

Greenways and Trails spring issue of Connections newsletter

Florida Greenways and Trails Connections

Celebrating Dunedin

dolphin and trail town banner in downtown Dunedin by Doug Alderson

By Eric Draper, Director of Florida State Parks

Downtown Dunedin had little to offer cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts when I first visited in the 1970s. It looked like virtually every other town that had paved over most of its green space and was unfriendly to bicyclists and pedestrians. Today, driving, walking or bicycling through Dunedin is a pleasure. Streets are curved and landscaped with a canopy of shade and the Pinellas Trail runs directly through downtown on the former bed of the historic Orange Belt Railway. More than a thousand people a day access Dunedin by trail! This transformation, along with being the home of Honeymoon Island, made Dunedin a destination for people who want safe, friendly places to walk and ride.  And that makes Dunedin the perfect choice to be designated by the DEP Office of Greenways and Trails as the first official Florida Trail Town.

The Trail Town designation tells the nation that Dunedin is one of Florida’s most pedestrian and bicycle friendly cities, as well as a thriving, desirable place to live. It is an ideal partnership between the town and Florida State Parks because we share a goal of people enjoying healthy outdoor experiences.

As part of that shared goal, we have committed to extending the existing multi-use trail connecting Dunedin to Honeymoon Island State Park by completing a 1.3-mile multi-use trail inside the park. The trail will provide safe access to the park’s beaches and amenities and help reduce traffic congestion and parking at one of Florida’s busiest state parks.

After joining the Dunedin City Commission for the trail town designation, I explored the town and trail by bicycle. What a great experience to see groups of cyclists and walkers and individuals of all ages walking, running and pushing strollers. We commend Dunedin for being bicycle and pedestrian friendly and as Florida’s first Trail Town, inspiring other Florida cities to create safer ways to walk and bike to downtowns and state and local parks.  

Communities and Trails: A Growing Link

Pinellas Trail by Doug Alderson

By Brian Smith, Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation

As the Florida trail initiative matures and expands, there are more opportunities for people to become involved. A number of years ago the idea caught on to provide a safe place for people to walk and bike. The purpose was to provide recreational opportunities. Now we find that there is an important link developing between communities and trails. Simply put, trails are good for communities and communities are good for trails. Many examples in the state are emerging.

Every community has unique characteristics that can be matched up to a trail and there are many different types of trails. Last month, the City of Dunedin was recognized as Florida’s first trail town. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's  Office of Greenways and Trails has established a new program to recognize trail towns. As this initiative goes forward, the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation plans to be supportive since this is an opportunity for different groups to work together for a common cause. This cause provides economic benefits, environmental benefits, and health benefits!

CT Gathering a "Celebration of People and Places"

These four members of the Howard Family are paddling the CT in segments, by Doug Alderson

Four members of the Howard family are paddling the CT in segments

More than 40 people attended the fifth annual Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail (CT) Gathering and Reunion April 20-22, 2018, at Hillsborough River State Park, sponsored by OGT and the Florida Paddling Trails Association (FPTA). Interest has been growing in the CT with a record 14 long-distance paddlers on the 1,515-mile trail this year, several of whom were in attendance at the gathering. Special guests were the 10-member Howard family. The father and three of the oldest children are paddling the CT in segments and thus far they have completed the Panhandle and Big Bend.

Besides a group paddling trip, this time on the canopied Hillsborough River, the ever popular “Tales from the Trail” program was held Saturday afternoon. Paddlers heard from thru-paddlers Sean Bowers and Mike Ruso as well as John Shinner, who is paddling the trail in segments. Mike Ruso shared a funny episode in which he was awakened by his paddling partner at the Dallus Creek campsite along the Big Bend Coast. “Where is the water?” his partner kept asking. Still in a morning daze, Mike looked out and indeed, the tide and winds had pushed the water out almost a mile from shore. The two then began a long slog, dragging boats behind. Aaron Carotta, otherwise known as Adventure Aaron, entertained the group Friday evening by showing a rough-cut documentary about his 5,000-mile paddling adventure from the upper Missouri River to the Atlantic Ocean. 

The next CT gathering and reunion will be April 19-21, 2019, at Tomoka State Park along Florida's east coast. “The annual gathering is a celebration of people and places,” said FPTA President Jill Lingard. “We come together to reconnect with CT paddlers and the volunteers who support them, and recount tales of the adventures enjoyed along those 1,515 miles of coastal paddling trails. Folks of all ages and backgrounds attend—this year’s attendance ranged from age 2 to 88! Differences melt away as we all share our love for paddling in Florida.”

Spring 2018

Dunedin Celebrates Designation as First Florida Trail Town

Dunedin officials unveil trail town sign

Dunedin officials unveil one of their new trail town signs.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) joined the city of Dunedin and local officials April 19, 2018, to celebrate the designation of Dunedin as the first Florida Trail Town. About 60 people attended while a steady stream of Pinellas Trail users passed in the background. 

Starting in the 1980s, Dunedin embarked on a six-fold strategy to transform their town:

  • Embrace the Pinellas Trail
  • Foster adaptive reuse
  • Slow traffic – pedestrian is #1
  • Beautify, beautify, beautify!
  • Build a sense of place
  • Do small projects every year

As a result, Dunedin’s downtown business occupancy rate rose from 30 percent to 100 percent since the Pinellas Trail was built through the town. Bike shops, cafes, motels and other businesses cater to trail users.

“We couldn’t be prouder,” said Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski. “Our downtown has thrived around the trail and attracted folks from all ages and abilities. We like to think of the trail as the main artery of our community.”

Florida State Parks Director Eric Draper represented DEP at the event. Governor Rick Scott could not attend, but said in a statement, “In Florida, we are incredibly proud of our state’s beautiful environment and DEP works relentlessly to keep Florida’s outdoor spaces and trails pristine for the millions of families and visitors that enjoy them each year. I want to congratulate the city of Dunedin on being named the first Florida Trail Town. Trails not only provide outstanding opportunities for recreation, but they also help boost the local economy, generating nearly $60 billion each year and supporting nearly 500,000 jobs.”

To recognize Florida’s Trail Towns, DEP’s Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) encourages interested communities to conduct self-assessments to gauge their strengths and weaknesses in relation to nearby trails and users. Trail Town candidates are then considered for approval by the legislatively established Florida Greenways and Trails Council. Designated Trail Towns are featured on the Office of Greenways and Trails website and given metal signs that can be placed at trailheads and town gateways. Businesses are also given trail town stickers.

Putting the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop on the Map

St. Johns River to Sea Loop by Maggie Ardito

By Maggie Ardito, President, St Johns River-to-Sea Loop Alliance

Did you know the Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail (C2C) has a sister? Two years ago the Florida Greenways and Trails Council designated the St Johns River-to-Sea Loop (SJR2C) a top-priority for Florida SUNTrail funding behind the C2C. Both trails start at Titusville and proceed northwest to DeBary, where the SJR2C continues north to Palatka, then heads east to St Augustine before turning south to close the loop at Titusville. As the second sibling, the loop has had to fight for attention. While not as famous as her more sophisticated and urban older sibling, she is not shy about flaunting her natural beauty and country charm.  Slightly longer than the Coast to Coast at over 265 miles, the loop boasts more springs, state parks, historic sites, scenic beauty, beaches and farm experiences.

The loop has another advantage – a dedicated nonprofit. The SJR2C Loop Alliance was formed in 2016 to advance, advocate, promote, and protect the loop. In August 2017, the alliance was awarded a grant to develop SJR2C maps. Last fall we held a three-day summit and we’re already planning the 2018 summit. We established the Tri-County Agritourism Corridor, a rural farming belt where tourists can visit local businesses, museums and attend annual events. We work closely with transportation planning organizations, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the five counties along the loop to help close the remaining gaps and celebrate closings.  We work with towns around the loop to achieve OGT’s Trail Town designation.

Putting the St. Johns loop on the map is key. New maps will benefit tour guides and marketing material. We partner with Florida’s Scenic Byways program to identify nearby destinations. We highlight trailheads like DeBary Hall, a magnificent 19th century hunting estate that will become the hub of a historic and natural corridor, drawing people into less-traveled Florida.

We envision a time when cyclists fly to Orlando and take a trail or the Sun Rail to the loop for extended tours – as millions of us fly into Amsterdam today. Cycle-tourists are generally low-impact, environmentally-conscious, quiet, slow-moving, and eager to discover less-visited places. 

Help put the loop on the map. We’re always seeking volunteers and are interested in reaching out to other trail-groups to share experiences. 

Rare Otter Encounter Highlights Importance of Paddlesports Safety

Braden River by Posie Haeger

Photo of Braden River by Posie Haeger

A paddler’s recent encounter with an otter on the Braden River in Southwest Florida is a good reminder to always practice safety when enjoying Florida’s natural resources. While paddling, remember:

  • Be sure everyone in a vessel is wearing a personal flotation device and has easy access to a whistle.
  • If you see wildlife, it is OK to take pictures and watch them, but always keep your distance from wild animals.
  • Paddle with a buddy, or make sure someone knows where you are and when you will be embarking and returning from your paddle.
  • Carry a manual bilge pump for emptying water in a kayak or canoe.
  • Know where you are – intimate knowledge of the water body and surrounding terrain makes it easier to assess exit and rescue strategies.