State Trail Funding Group Adds An FLT-Recommended Selection Criterion

by Roger Normand

The Florida Greenway and Trails Council (FGTC) adopted a criterion proposed by FLT for eligibility to $25 million per year funding enacted by the 2014 Florida Legislature to fund a statewide network of paved and non-paved trails known as the SUN Trail!  We proposed, and FGTC agreed, to include a new criterion that a candidate project “demonstrate broad and persistent community support.”  Interestingly, FGTC lists our recommended criterion first among their 10 criteria.  

SUN Trail is an acronym for Shared-Use Non-motorized trail network that will link gaps between existing multi-use trails in the Florida Greenway & Trails System  (FGTS).  The Florida legislature directed two Florida agencies – DOT and the Environmental Protection Office of Greenways to work together on eligibility criteria and award funds.

Why is this important? It’s a potential funding source for the extension of The Legacy Trail!

It seemed like a no-brainer to us.  Why invest in building a new trail without evidence of depth and breath of community support? 

It should come as no surprise that FLT believes The Legacy Trail extension would score very well on this new criterion!   With the unanimous endorsement of the Sarasota Commissioners to pursue extending The Legacy Trail, the 120,000 estimated annual users of the existing The Legacy Trail, the 5,000+ and growing number of petitions FLT accumulated so far, and other actions undertaken by FLT, we believe we can be very competitive for SUN Trail funding to support the extension effort.   The Legacy Trail is a component of the FGTS, and the extension is listed as a trail gap.

We are entering a critical stage for the extension: an independent appraisal will establish a monetary value for the rail corridor.  That appraisal will be a benchmark for the County/TPL to negotiate a purchase price from CSX.

Once the parties agree on a purchase price, it’s good to know that one potential funding source is SUN Trail funding.  And that FLT helped to raise the odds in favor of The Legacy Trail!

County Back In Conductor Seat For Trail Extension

by Roger Normand

After some 9 months of “nothing new to report,” the month of February brought a fresh wave of rejuvenating good news to extend The Legacy Trail to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota.

The best news was that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) was terminating efforts to acquire the rail corridor from its owner, CSX Railroad, and returning that process back to Sarasota County.

FDOT efforts, begun last spring, were seen by many as a mixed blessing.  It began with word from CSX, not FDOT, that they were ceasing talks with the County amid discussions with FDOT acquiring 100 miles of rail corridor across the state, including The Legacy Trail extension.  FDOT later released a brief statement that their interest was to create multi-modal corridors – typically an urban corridor optimized for short and medium trips using transit lines (light rail, express bus) with an adjacent pedestrian and bicycling path.  Such corridors have been successfully used in a handful of states, according to Rails to Trails Conservancy.  It was considered but not recommended in the March 2015 County commissioned feasibility study to extend The Legacy Trail.

That FDOT has much deeper pockets to acquire the trail and finance construction than the County was viewed by many as a major potential benefit. However, despite periodic requests for updates, FDOT was never forthcoming about their plans.  Would The Legacy Trail extension be tied to time consuming conflicts at other locations?  Spring turned to summer, which begat fall, then winter.  Still no word from FDOT.  

Extension advocates were jubilant when the Sarasota County Commissioners unanimously accepted the Feasibility Study on April 1, 2015, and directed the County Executive to begin discussions with CSX and pursue an independent appraisal of the rail corridor.  All that momentum was surely slipping away behind closed doors in Tallahasee.

Fortunately, the County Commissioners shared the same concerns, prompting one Commissioner to meet with the FDOT Secretary in Tallahassee in early February.  Shortly afterwards, the County confirmed that FDOT “will be terminating their negotiations to acquire the right of way” from CSX.  “That shifts the next steps/negotiations back to Sarasota County for the portion that we are seeking.”

It remains unclear what progress, if any, FDOT made in acquiring any unused rail corridors from CSX. 

The County is now back in the conductors seat for the trail extension.   Hoorah!  The County reaffirmed they and partner The Trust for Public Land would promptly restart discussions with CSX.  Thank you to the County Commissioners for interceding and getting the extension back on track!

Featured photo courtesy of Sarasota County staff.

Tripadvisor Gives The Legacy Trail It’s Certificate of Excellence

by Andrea Seager

Very quietly, without much fanfare, The Legacy Trail has become one of Sarasota’s most important tourist attractions., one of the world’s largest and most influential travel websites with 375 million monthly visitors has awarded a Certificate of Excellence to Sarasota County’s multi-use Legacy Trail.

Enjoyed by over 120,000 people per year, the trail has been reviewed 335 times with the vast majority of TripAdvisor members granting four or five stars to the 10.6 mile paved path that starts at The Venice Train Depot. Travelers from as far away as Moscow, Jerusalem and London extol the virtues of the flat, easy terrain. Andre D. from Concord, New Hampshire’s comments are typical: “We rented bikes at Real Bikes in Venice right next to the trail. Very reasonable and nice bikes. The trail is fantastic. We had a great ride 20 miles up and back. Plenty of places to rest and get shade. Enjoyable for all levels. Excellent construction of the trail.”

The Friends of The Legacy Trail website includes maps showing parking areas, rest stops, bicycle rentals and a wealth of other information about the Trail. If you haven’t explored it yet, now might be the perfect time to check out Sarasota’s “excellent” Legacy Trail!

Wanted: Business Member Liaison

by Carla Martin

Are you looking for a way to help Friends of the Legacy Trail as well as local businesses?

Do you have a favorite business (restaurant / shop / service) which you think could benefit from having an ad on the FLT website?

If so consider joining the FLT Marketing and Promotion Team as the Business Member Liaison.

In this role, you could ask your favorite business to become a Business Member of FLT. 

A Business Membership benefits both the business and FLT.   The business has a choice of 2 ways to do this:
1.   By being a paying member at $50 per year or
2.   For free by offering our members a discount on goods or services.

Either way the business gets advertising on our site and has their name in our newsletter in a small article welcoming them.  In addition, each month their name will appear a banner in our newsletter along with our other business members.

In addition, you would contact our current Business Members and ask if they are interested in continuing their membership for another year.

Here is what one local Business Member had to say about his recent membership: “Honestly that $50 to become a biz member with you paid for itself almost right away ;)”

If this appeals to you, please contact us here.

Thanks for considering this!

Carla Martin
Marketing and Promotion
Friends of The Legacy Trail

Oakwood Manor Presentation

Friends of The Legacy Trail will be presenting a program on The Legacy Trail at the Oakwood Manor Home Owners Association (map here) at 1 PM on February 13th, 2016.  This presentation should be of particular interest to residents of northern Sarasota County because of the planned extension of The Trail through this area.  Everyone is invited to attend.  Although this is a gated community,  the guard will allow you entry for the presentation.

Click Map to Enlarge

As the above map shows, the planned route along the existing railroad right-of-way will pass near the communities of Oakwood Manor and Pinecraft.  In addition, the extension would create the potential for a connecting route to Nathan Benderson Park and the The Meadows trail system using the existing Circus Trail.

‘Legacy’ is a Long Trail of Attraction

by Steve Baumann

Sunday mornings of late, I strap on a plastic helmet, hop on my bike and beat it over to the Venice Train Depot, where I join a couple promoting the Legacy Trail for the “Friends of.”

I am the third wheel in our greeter group. I’m there to supplement the work of Darryl (a she) and Jerry (a he) Lang, who have faithfully staffed a table Sundays beneath a cabbage palm outside the train station for a year or more.
Darryl and Jerry are relative newcomers. Younger than I am, but retired from Ohio. In the process of selling a condo in Venice and buying a new home in Nokomis.

They’re the kind of resettlers who naturally fall into community involvement. In no time, Darryl has become membership coordinator (or some such) of the Friends of the Legacy Trail. They are excellent companions.

They also seem to like it here a lot.
From the feedback we get while gabbing with passersby, everybody likes it here a lot. That’s true of every person who has stopped at our information table. (Maps, T-shirts, water available.)

And one thing high on the likability spectrum is the trail itself. Bikers come from all over — Port Charlotte, North Port, Osprey and Sarasota. Ohio, New Jersey, Canada, Indiana and Ohio. (A lot of Buckeyes, hereabouts.)

The Sunday greeter experience leaves me more convinced than ever about the popularity of public “parks” like the Legacy Trail.

Not everyone cares to ride on a bike trail — not everyone cares to golf or fish. But those who do, care a lot.

That’s plain from the people who stop when Darryl flags them down to “sign our petition.” (Jerry and I tend to soft-pedal a wave).

The petition isn’t official. It’s meant to indicate support to extend the current Legacy Trail another 7.5 miles to Payne Park in Sarasota. Everyone signs.

The trail now stretches 10.4 miles north from the Train Depot. From the depot, the Venetian Waterway Park trail runs south another 10 miles to Shamrock Park on one side of the waterway and Caspersen Beach on the other side.

The Sarasota County Commission has endorsed an extension study proposal. Feelers went out to CSX Transportation, which owns the track. Last report, the state Department of Transportation has taken over talks to acquire more than 100 miles of CSX lines for rails-to-trails conversion throughout the state. This is included.

Good thing. These things don’t come cheap. The Legacy Trail cost north of $30 million. (No wonder the county named it “legacy.”) Initial track acquisition costs for the next phase came in at $8 million-plus. Design and construction ranged from $16 million to $20 million. Give or take.

The Friends of the Legacy Trail won’t raise that kind of money selling T-shirts (lovely long-sleeve shirts available for $20 from me, Darryl or Jerry!) But, no doubt, Sunday survey says, build it and a lot more people will come and use it

Originally published in the Venice Gondolier 1/30/16
Permission  to include here given by Steve Baumann