Summer Connections Newsletter, Office of Greenways and Trails

Florida Greenways and Trails Connections

Florida Represented at International Trails Symposium

Jill Lingard with outstanding trail leader for Florida award

Florida was well-represented at the International Trails Symposium, coordinated by American Trails, April 28 through May 1, 2019, in Syracuse, New York. DEP’s Office of Greenways and Trails did a 75-minute presentation about Florida’s trail system and Trail Town Program. Jill Lingard, president of the Florida Paddling Trails Association, received an award as an outstanding state trail leader. During the symposium, several breakout sessions were held where participants could discuss various trail issues and provide suggested  solutions.

A primary theme of the symposium was equity, diversity and inclusiveness on our trails. Charles Thomas, executive director of Outward Bound Adventures, outlined five reasons why minorities  are challenged in using our trails: socioeconomic factors, the influence of culture and ethnicity, discrimination, opportunity and acculturation. Thomas helps train people from minority backgrounds to become trail leaders. He emphasized that it is not enough to be open to diversity; it has to be actively promoted.

The next International Trails Symposium will be held in May 2021 in Reno, Nevada.

The Future of Transportation in Florida

bikes along busway in Miami courtesy of East Coast Greenway Alliance

OGT regional coordinators joined over 150 stakeholders at The Future of Transportation in Florida Conference, sponsored by the Florida Department of Transportation on May 6 and 7. The conference in downtown Jacksonville was hosted by The Omni and drew representation from state and local governments, nonprofit organizations and consultant firms alike. The conference opened with a Vision Zero Workshop — an opportunity to explore how the worldwide Vision Zero framework will positively impact the future of transportation in Florida. Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all.  Participants were provided an overview of the initiative by Leah Shahum, founder and director of the national Vision Zero Network, among other transportation professionals.

The conference featured Vision Zero initiatives from local governments, table discussions on innovative strategies and approaches to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries in Florida as well as a student panel with researchers from universities across the state. Considerations of safety, roadway design, technology data sharing, and risks were featured themes in the discussion.

The conference concluded with a long-range visioning session that discussed the vision and implementation of efforts to drive down fatalities and injuries in Florida. OGT was pleased to have the opportunity to join the conversation, advocating for safe roads for all users, including bicyclists and pedestrians.

Putnam County Wins Trail Grant

Doppelt grant fund web page

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) recently announced the winners of the 2019 Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund grant.

Congratulations to the Putnam Blueways and Trails Citizen Support Organization, which received $5,000 in grant funding!

The grant will be used to maintain 28 miles of paved trails owned by Putnam County and the City of Palatka and that are components of the Florida Greenways and Trails System.

According to RTC, the fund is designed to support trail projects that are critical to walking and bicycling networks, yet too small to be eligible for federal or state programs. This year, they received more than 170 applications requesting more than $4.7 million  in funding, demonstrating high demand for trail projects nationwide.

Additional information about the funding source can be found at Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund.

Everglades City Making Strides

dolphin bike rack at McLeod Park courtesy of Patty Huff

When Everglades City was designated a trail town in January 2019, the town's trail town committee set several goals that were adopted by the Everglades City Council.

In just six months, several of these goals are being implemented, including putting out bids for 90 dark-sky compliant solar street lights, installing a decorative dolphin bike rack and bike repair station at McLeod Park, creating updated city maps, and purchasing eight new bike racks for town businesses and the Everglades City School. A national park concessionaire has begun offering daily boat tours in the park from Everglades City.

“The Trail Town designation has provided Everglades City with a value-added incentive to focus on improving and expanding on the many amenities we have to offer our visitors and residents alike," said trail town committee member Patty Huff.

Orlando Providing Free Bike Racks to Businesses

Motorists are uncomfortable leaving their vehicle unlocked when visiting a business, and bicyclists feel much the same way. That's one reason the City of Orlando is providing free bike racks to local businesses. The online application takes less than 15 minutes to complete. The program  is part of the city's Green Works Initiative, which strives to increase walking, biking, transit and carpool trips by 50 percent by 2040.

Summer 2019

Trail Coordination in the East-Central Region

Donald Morgan on Palatka to Lake Butler Trail, by Doug Alderson

By Donald Morgan, OGT Regional Coordinator

As one of three regional trail coordinators for the Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT), I am tasked with providing trail coordination and planning for the East-Central Region (Region 2) of the Florida Greenways and Trails System. In addition to working with my region, I lead efforts for coordinating long-distance trails and provide master planning support.

Region 2 is a vibrant hub for Florida trails as it is home to three long-distance shared-use regional trail systems: The East Coast Greenway, The Heart of Florida Loop, and the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop and many other land and water trail networks. In my eight-month tenure as Regional Coordinator, I have been fortunate to meet great trail champions and see awesome, cutting-edge trail projects.

Back in April, Florida State Parks Director Eric Draper and I joined the Town of Hastings in celebrating the completion of its 3-mile segment of the Palatka-to-St. Augustine State Trail. In coordination with the event planners, OGT provided new kiosk maps for the state trail, all of which feature “You are Here” points to aid wayfinding. In addition, OGT provided keepsake rack cards that highlight the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop and the Hastings Rail Trail. A great time was had by cyclists, community residents, vendors and trail champions alike.

Speaking of the St. Johns-River-to Sea Loop, we are gearing up for another exciting Loop Summit, this one to take place in Titusville in March 2020. OGT is working closely with the planning committee to organize an informative summit, including educational breakout sessions and an action workshop. Stay tuned for more information!

I am also excited about the continuing progress of the 250-mile Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail (C2C). Regional Coordinator Katie Bernier and I are working to develop a data book, a multipurpose tool that would feature completed trail segments, segment lengths, amenities along the segments, as well as gaps and anticipated completion dates. We are working our way around the C2C, meeting with segment managers.

Final State Park Reopens

Some of the people who volunteered to clean up the cave, by Brandy Smith

By Eric Draper, Florida State Parks Director

On June 14th, over 100 Department of Environmental Protection staff arrived at Florida Caverns State Park equipped with helmets, flashlights and shovels. It was the final push to help restore the caverns after Hurricane Michael. The group formed a bucket brigade and began hauling load after load of mud out of Florida’s only public cave system, while others cleaned the museum and spread gravel on trails.

The task was trying, but worth it. People volunteered to spend a day doing incredibly tough and dirty work so that everyone can enjoy the park.

Florida’s parks, greenways and trails are a public treasure, providing millions of visitors with access to green spaces and recreation opportunities. Protecting these lands is a priority for DEP and for local communities.

Thanks to the hard work of staff, partners and local volunteers, Florida Caverns State Park is again welcoming visitors. It’s the final state park to reopen of the 31 that were damaged by Hurricane Michael.

Each damaged park had a band of supporters. They were staff, local leaders and residents who saw their park as a symbol of resilience after the storm. Conversations with them strengthened my belief that communities need places to get active and experience nature, especially through hardship.

As Floridians we have much to celebrate during Recreation and Parks Month. You can help by leading others to recognize the value of getting outdoors. It’s easy to do — invite a friend or colleague to a new trail or take the kids on a weekend paddling trip. We need places to play, and those places need us to enjoy and share them with others.    

Chipola River Reopens after Hurricane Michael

Chipola River paddlers by Doug Alderson

Here’s one way to help communities recovering from Hurricane Michael: Paddle their waterways and spend a few dollars at local businesses while you’re at it. The Chipola River below Florida Caverns State Park in Jackson County from Yancey Bridge to Peacock Bridge is now free of fallen trees, a 20-mile stretch, thanks to funding provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This spring-fed river flows past high bluffs and even a cave, with few signs of humanity. The Chipola River Paddling Trail Guide provides everything you need to know for planning your trip. Due to some tight turns and swift currents, the river is recommended for intermediate and experienced paddlers. Additionally in Jackson County, the Merritt’s Mill Pond and Ocheesee Pond paddling trails make for wonderful and easy day trips.

Some fallen trees are still present in the Chipola River below Jackson County, but paddlers are able to navigate around them. Elsewhere in the Panhandle, Econfina Creek is open from the Econfina Canoe Livery to the County Road 388 Bridge, and Holmes Creek is open from Cotton Landing to the town of Vernon.

Circumnavigational Trail Update Completed

front cover of circumnavigational trail guide

In preparation for the 2019-20 paddling season, which begins in October, all 26 segments of the 1,515-mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail have recently been updated. Several weblinks were revised and some changes to hotels along the way. Mexico Beach overnight accommodations were updated in the wake of Hurricane Michael with one hotel set to reopen next year. Another primitive campsite has been added to Waccasassa Bay Preserve State Park in coordination with park officials. As part of the update, the printed guide for the trail has also been updated and is available on Amazon.

OGT coordinates the trail and relies on long-distance paddlers and volunteers with the Florida Paddling Trails Association to be their eyes and ears on the water, alerting staff of any needed changes for the guide.

“By paddling the Circumnavigational Trail, you get to see parts of Florida you’ve never seen," said John Shinner, one of several people paddling the entire trail in segments over several years. "If you have the option, take your time and really enjoy what the trail has to offer.”