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.