Spring Connections Newsletter, Office of Greenways and Trails

Florida Greenways and Trails Connections

Greenways and Trails Plan Now Available

Florida Greenways and Trails System Plan 2019-2023 cover

The Florida Greenways and Trails System Plan, coordinated by DEP's Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT), establishes the vision for implementing a connected statewide system of greenways and trails for recreation, conservation, alternative transportation, healthy lifestyles, a vibrant economy and a high quality of life. The original plan was completed in 1998 and adopted by the Florida Legislature in 1999, laying the groundwork for many programs, projects and initiatives that exist today. The updated plan and maps guide implementation of the connected statewide trail system from 2019 through 2023.

As part of the update, OGT held 14 public workshops to receive input from trail users, local planners and the public. OGT also received hundreds of emails and letters and input from the Florida Greenways and Trails Council. As a result, the plan will help to shape the direction of trails for years to come. 

New Trail Construction Begun

groundbreaking for the Coastal Anclote Trail

A recent groundbreaking was held in Pasco County for the 5-mile Coastal Anclote Trail. This 12-foot-wide multi-use trail will connect to three different parks in Pasco County and will eventually link to the Pinellas Trail. It was funded by the Penny for Pasco program, and approved by nearly 70 percent of the county's voters in 2012.

In North Florida, design work has been completed for a paved 1.4-mile extension of Gayle's Trails in Panama City Beach. Another planned extension will create a path to the Bay County Sports Complex and local apartment complexes. Gayle's Trails is a 20-mile network of linear paved trails that radiate from Frank Brown Park in Panama City Beach.

Story Maps and Online Trail Guide

Office of Greenways and Trails-Third Party Contributor Florida Forest Service-Blackwater Bike Camp photo by Stefis Demetropoulos

By Daniel Diaz, Office of Greenways and Trails, Geographic Information System (GIS) Coordinator

Working to advance the Florida Greenways and Trails System means there is always something new on my plate as the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Coordinator for the Office of Greenways and Trails. My position involves maintaining our trail maps and associated spatial data.

In recent months, the GIS team has been creating online Story Map Tours in support of the burgeoning Florida Trail Town Program. Florida’s Trail Towns are communities located along a priority non-motorized recreational trail or a recognized trail system. 

A Story Map Tour is an interactive map of the designated community, coupled with photographs and information on the unique attributes that led to a community’s designation. Through this format, potential visitors can preview trailside dining, visitor centers and a community’s trademark trail systems. Be sure to check out the Story Map Tours for Florida’s Designated Trail Towns on our website.

Another exciting resource that we coordinate is the Online Trail Guide. This is the most comprehensive resource of its kind for trails in Florida. The Online Trail Guide is an interactive map that can be panned and zoomed to discover trails of all kinds. Each trail on this map is a clickable feature, which provides a hyperlink to the website for its managing entity. If you are a trail manager and you have noticed that your trail needs to be updated in the Online Trail Guide, please contact me at daniel.diaz@floridadep.gov.

Florida Outdoor Recreation Plan Update

SCORP cover

The 2019 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) is nearing completion. The SCORP is Florida’s official planning document regarding outdoor recreation.

The general public will have one last opportunity to provide input to SCORP through a public comment period that ends May 17, 2019. The public can download the draft plan and appendices and send comments to outdoor.recreation@floridadep.gov.

Since 1963, the state has engaged in a collaborative planning process to improve outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and visitors. The 2019 SCORP is part of this tradition that enables Florida to receive grant monies from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to acquire park lands and improve recreation facilities. Between 2004 and 2017, the LWCF provided more than $27 million in matching grants to Florida’s local governments, resulting in the establishment and improvement of 137 different parks throughout the state.

Spring 2019

Trail Town Celebrations!

Kraig McLane speaks about the new Palatka trail town sign, by Donald Morgan

The town of Palatka, a hub for several paddling and multi-use trails, celebrated its Trail Town designation April 5 at the St. Johns River Center. Florida State Parks Director Eric Draper and Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) Northeast Florida Regional Coordinator Donald Morgan joined Palatka city officials and trail organizers at the event.

“Palatka’s recent designation as a Florida Trail Town has created a renewed focus and optimism on the economic revitalization of the downtown business district for merchants and property owners,” said Palatka’s Trail Town Committee Chair Robbi Correa.

Vice Chair Kraig McLane added, “This is a wonderful opportunity to assist trail users and tourists, and to help our businesses provide services.” 

At the southern end of the state, Everglades City held a Trail Town event  April 27 at the Everglades Museum. It was also the museum's 21st anniversary. Everglades City is a gateway to the Ten Thousand Islands and an important hub for several paddling trails, including the 1,515-mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.

Howie Grimm is the Mayor of Everglades City. “Our small island town situated in the middle of the greater Everglades area has many amenities for both our residents and visitors, including a city park, a museum, restaurants, lodging, a hardware store, grocery store and historic buildings dating back to the 1920s,” he said. “We are a bikeable and walkable community with kayak and canoe rentals and guided tours. Having the Florida Trail Town designation will only enhance our efforts to provide the best possible experience for our visitors.”

Mayor Grimm and other town officials and trail advocates were joined by Florida Parks Director Eric Draper, OGT South Florida Regional Coordinator Katie Bernier, and Florida Greenways and Trails Council Chair Becky Afonso at the celebration. 

Celebrating Trails in Putnam County

Cutting the ribbon for the Hastings segment of the trail by Donald Morgan

By Eric Draper, Director of Florida State Parks

The enthusiasm at the recent Palatka Trail Town celebration amazed me. The venue was the terrific St. Johns River Center, and the turnout was one of the largest I have seen. Local business owners showed up to celebrate the customers and traffic the trail town designation brings. Palatka earned the Florida Trail Town designation with a remarkable partnership between local governments, businesses and long-term trail advocates. Local trail champions like Kraig McLane, Sam Carr and Linda Crider held a vision of what their community could be, and they pursued it.

The Bartram Trail is an anchor trail in Palatka, and it’s one of Florida’s unique trails. Bicyclists, paddlers and walkers can follow botanist William Bartram’s journey through Florida in the 1700s. It’s an unforgettable experience to cross the same ground and see the same sights as this early interpreter of natural Florida.

Ravine Gardens State Park, a stop on the Bartram Trail, holds an early example of how ecotourism and outdoor recreation can vitalize a community. During the Great Depression, local businessman Thomas Byrd Gillespie was looking for ways to bring new visitors to the town. He began advocating for the construction of natural gardens that would draw tourists. Gillespie’s idea caught on, and the gardens became one of Palatka’s central attractions, eventually joining the state park system.

In the nearby agricultural community of Hastings, people celebrated the opening of a new section of the Palatka-to-St. Augustine State Trail. At the ribbon-cutting for the new section, I saw tremendous energy from residents and visitors. A local barbecue was open for the event and there were many eager customers. The sight reminded me that business owners have good reason to be excited about trails.

After the ribbon-cutting, I got on my bike and rode the trail. It was the third part of the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop that I’ve ridden.

State Parks Reopening

St. George Island State Park by Doug Alderson

Though still repairing damage, most Florida State Parks have reopened in some capacity in the wake of Hurricane Michael. They include St. George Island, Torreya, Three Rivers, Falling Waters and the launch area of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. The campground at St. Andrews State Park is being reopened 30 sites at a time, so this is good news for paddlers on the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.

Contract crews funded by the Department of Environmental Protection's Division of State Lands have been clearing log jams on the Chipola River and Econfina Creek paddling trails. Marianna and the surrounding area hopes to re-establish itself as a recreational hub that is enjoyed by paddlers and other users.

Some state parks, such as in the Keys, are still recovering from Hurricane Irma. The campground at Long Key State Park remains closed with some primitive campsites likely opening by mid-summer. In other news, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park now has a floating dock along the Intracoastal Waterway that is accessible to paddlers on the Circumnavigational Trail.