by Roger Normand
A new Legacy Park is about to open next to the historic Venice Train Depot, located at 395 East Venice Avenue in the City of Venice, FL. The restored train depot serves as the junction of two Sarasota County multi-use paved trails: the 10.6 mile Legacy Trail and the 10 mile Venetian Waterway Park (5 miles long on each side of the intracoastal waterway).
Legacy Park offers a slew of multi-use recreational opportunities. A kayak/canoe launch allows access to the wide expanse of the intracoastal waterway as well as the more intimate confines of Hatchett Creek. Opting for the latter, paddlers will feel transported back in time as they travel through a dense canopy of native white, red and black mangrove trees and view other natural Florida landscape features. A two station kayak/canoe wash station provides a quick cleanup at journey’s end. There are pervious parking areas for vehicles and boat trailers. The design provides parking spaces while still allowing water infiltration and reducing surface water runoff into the creek.
New storm water retention ponds surrounded by native vegetation provide habitat for wading birds and small mammals and will also help improve water quality flowing into the creek. Visitors are likely to see a diverse mix of birds such as snowy egrets, great egrets, blue heron, tricolored heron and osprey.
A wildlife observation platform built next to Hatchett Creek provides up-close viewing opportunities of creek inhabitants. Sheltered picnic areas dot the area, along with a public restroom and drinking fountain. A handicap-accessible 1/2 mile asphalt nature trail winds through the park.
The city of Venice acquired the ten acre abandoned industrial cement plant site in 2008 for $7.4 million using funds from the voter-approved one-cent sales tax surcharge and a grant from the Florida Communities Trust. The city developed a comprehensive redevelopment plan in coordination with Sarasota County during the intervening years and demolished all the buildings on the site. About $2 million was spent on design, permitting and construction of the new park using funds from Sarasota County, Park Impact Fees; Florida Department of Environmental’s Land and Water Conservation Fund, Recreational Trails Program, and Protection Coastal Management Partnership Programs. Future plans include a train themed covered playground and additional landscaping. Sarasota County will assume all future operations and maintenance needs for the city owned Legacy Park though an inter-local agreement.
The depot already serves as a transit station for the Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) bus station. It also includes a railroad museum with an outdoor caboose set amid picnic benches. Across the still visible remaining railroad tracks lies the Rollins Coakley Railroad Park with its public boat launch to the Intracoastal Waterway and paved trailer parking area. The depot is also the start and finish lines for the annual Tour de Parks bicycle ride sponsored by the Friends of the Legacy Trail.
We are very fortunate that Sarasota County, the City of Venice, and other local communities continue to invest in acquiring, maintaining, and improving a diverse mix of area parks.