Category Archives: Articles

Ringling Trail Complete Street Recognized as Project of the Year

Sarasota, FL (April 26, 2023): The Ringling Trail Complete Street was recognized as the Project of the Year by the American Public Works Association (APWA) Florida Chapter during its annual conference in Jacksonville last week. Assistant City Engineer Dan Ohrenstein, project team co-lead along with Capital Projects Manager Camden Mills, accepted the award on behalf of the City of Sarasota.

“This was the first protected bicycle lane project in the Sarasota-Manatee region, coupled with lane repurposing, and community conversations occurred during the pandemic,” said Assistant City Engineer Dan Ohrenstein. “More cyclists are traveling between The Legacy Trail and downtown core since the protected bike lanes were installed along the Ringling Trail and that’s translating into economic growth,” said City Manager Marlon Brown.

Click here for more information about this project and the award.


Bus + Bike + The Legacy Trail

Consider the Possibilities

Like the European train system, Sarasota County’s bus system (SCAT) can provide a natural extension and complement to traveling by bicycle. The bus system provides a number of connections to The Legacy Trail, and the buses can carry up to two bikes per bus. The chart below shows locations where bus routes connect directly to points on the trail.

4/20/23 Update from Miranda Lansdale with the County Transit Department: Our contracted provider for the OnDemand service has now added bicycle racks to 12 of their vehicles. The OnDemand service is a curb-to-curb rideshare, “on demand” transportation option available in 4 zones. The zones generally cover where our bus routes do not (1: Downtown Sarasota/Lido Key/Longboat Key, 2: Siesta Key, 3: Venice/Englewood, 4: North Port). The idea is that a passenger can enter a ride request that includes pickup and dropoff location within an OnDemand zone, and within 30 minutes a van will arrive to execute the request. When making the request, the individual can select the option for a van with a bicycle rack. Other passengers may be picked up or dropped off along the way. The cost is $2 per ride.

Some interesting possibilities are:

  1. Use the bus to get to and from the trail without having to cycle on roads, or having to load your bicycle into your car, or
  2. Use the bus system to plan a one-way trip on the trail. For example, with Bus Route 17 one could start at the Venice Train Depot, cycle to downtown Sarasota for lunch, and return on the bus to the Train Depot. or
  3. Suppose you have a flat tire. You could use the bus to get home or to a bike shop.

The following video shows how simple it is to load your bike onto the bus bike racks:

Click here for more information on how to use the Sarasota County bus system. Click here for bus schedules and routes.


Tucker and Cody Enjoying the Trail

Joe and Terry and their two boys were recently spotted taking a break at the Ashton Trailhead while enjoying a warm, sunny February day along the Legacy Trail. “We’re snowbirds from Michigan and have been coming here for many years. We love it here in the winter – the sun, the many attractions, including the longer Legacy Trail. Tucker and Cody, get so excited when we pull out the bikes and put on their goggles.” Yeah, about the goggles? “We want to protect their eyes from the sun, pollen or other air borne debris.”

And then they were off down the trail, leading the way with paws up on the front edge of the basket, all dog smiles at the adventures that lie ahead.

Kirk can do

by Roger Normand

Riding the Legacy Trail is always a pleasure – often because of the interesting people you meet along the way. Sometimes, they are just plain inspiring.

I distinctly remember passing a solo rider on today’s ride and moments later, my mind was processing what I thought I saw. Was that rider pedaling with just one leg? I slowed and the one-legged rider quickly caught up.

After some pleasantries, I introduced myself as a member of the Friends of the Legacy Trail, and said I was always on the lookout for stories that highlight the diversity of trail users. Without hesitation, Kirk Bauer introduced himself and gladly offered some of his personal journey.

Kirk lives in Baltimore, but was vacationing in Venice for a few weeks. “I’ve been here a few times before and love the great weather for outdoor activities, the restaurants, and being able to ride mostly flat rails-trails like the Legacy Trail. With just one leg pedaling, I don’t do as well going up hills” he said with a smile.

“I lost my leg while serving with the Army during the Vietnam war.” I thanked him for his service and sacrifice. Recovery, physically and mentally, was not easy, he explained, “but I had great doctors, physical therapists, and outstanding role models around me to lean on and guide me.”

“I did some bicycling before I lost my leg.” He said it was one of the many early skills he had to relearn. “Like a kid, I started out with training wheels and someone walking by my side in case I lost my balance. My first solo ride was a big deal for me.” Getting comfortable on the bike took some time.

“I have a prosthetic leg, but it’s uncomfortable cycling and doesn’t give me much leverage to pedal” he explained pointing to the short remaining stump of his left leg. “I find it better to ride my bike without it.” He said his typical ride is 40 to 60 miles! I told him to come back next year after the Legacy Trail extension is completed to downtown Sarasota and he could do that round trip distance right here on the trail.

His Army service and rehabilitation experience led to a lifelong career: helping other disabled individuals regain a sense of self, purpose, and accomplishment. Kirk was the Executive Director of Disabled Sports USA for over 30 years, growing the organization into national prominence. “I’ve had a few other interesting adventures,” pointing me to his resume on Move United, the successor to Disabled Sports.”

Like being appointed by President Bush to represent the US at the 2008 Beijing Summer Paralympics; leading a team of amputee veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars to reach the Mt. Kilimanjaro summit; and receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award by the President’s Council on Fitness in 2013.

As we approached the Laurel road overpass, I noticed that he never lost speed or cadence going up one of the few “hills” along the trail. Later I saw on his resume that he’d once completed the 100 mile “Three Notch Century Bicycle Ride” over three mountain passes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Now retired at age 73, Kirk is still riding and inspiring others, including me.

The Fate of the Extension Rests with County Taxpayers

by Roger Normand

Without opposition, and amid a large contingent of yellow shirted Friends of Legacy Trail supporters, the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners (BCC) voted unanimously March 14th on a resolution to include a bond referendum on the regular November 6 ballot to extend the Legacy Trail.

If approved by county voters, the referendum would allow the county to borrow up to $65 million to buy another 6.5 miles of unused rail corridor (including spur) to extend the trail to Payne Park and Fruitville Road in the city of Sarasota. The referendum includes funds to allow the county to build the trail – including the portion to Ashton Road purchased by the County in December; trail overpasses at heavily trafficked intersections at Clark and Bee Ridge roads; parking, restrooms and water fountains; and provide funds to better connect the city of North Port to the Legacy Trail.

A key provision: UP TO $65 million.Carolyn Brown, the County’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, told the commissioners that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) had included $7.5M SUN Trail funds in their 2022/2023 draft work plan, pending approval in June 2018.  She also said the County had requested another $4.2 million in SUN Trail funds for FDOT to build a trail overpass at Clark Road.  Florida’s SUN Trail program provides $25 million per year for trail construction across the state.  She indicated that any funds received would reduce the amount of bonding.

 

While $65 million is a large amount – the county estimates it at .08 mil in the ad valorem millage rate – it would amount to an annual tax increase of $16.00 per $200,000 real estate property valuation for 20 years.  We believe that the collaboration of the county, the MPO, city governments and FLT representing the community provide a compelling case for securing SUN Trail and other potential funds that will reduce that amount.

Are the permanent benefits of extending the Legacy Trail – safety for trail users and motorists, enhanced quality of life and property values, opportunities to connect community trails to the Legacy Trail, support for the Safe Routes to School National Initiative , and non-motorized connections to area attractions, worth the cost of dinner once a year at an inexpensive area restaurant?  We think so!  FLT and our partners will continue to engage, inform and convince residents that the Legacy Trail extension is a sound investment in our community.

FLT would like to thank the Commissioners for their action, and thank all of our supporters and trail users who have gotten us to this point.

LT Extension On Track for December Acquisition to Ashton Road

by Roger Normand

If all goes according to plan, by late December 2017 Legacy Trail users gazing northward from the northern end of the trail by Culverhouse Nature Park will be seeing County property signs atop the overgrown, unused rail corridor now owned by CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSX) and its lessee Seminole Gulf Railway L.P. (SGR).

Field work has been completed by the County and its partner Trust for Public Land on an environmental assessment, title review, and boundary survey of the Phase 1 portion of the corridor to Ashton Road. CSX and SGR are participating in the review. Efforts are now focused on analyzing the results, as well as completing the review of over 30 existing individual licenses, leases and agreements and deciding whether to continue, modify, or terminate each one.

Despite beginning with an shortened timeline, and the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the parties expect to complete the inspection review by 30 November 2017. Barring any unexpected findings, they will close on the property by December 20th, 2017, as provided in the sale contract.

Like the existing Legacy Trail, the Phase 1 corridor will be “railbanked” under the provisions of the National Trails System Act. According to the Rails to Trails Conservancy, “Railbanking is a method by which corridors that would otherwise be abandoned can be preserved for future rail use through interim conversion to a trail.” CSX and SGR recently filed to formally abandon this section of rail corridor with the Surface Transportation Board, which has national regulatory oversight on railroads. The Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners approved on October 31st sending a “letter to the Surface Transportation Board requesting issuance of a Public Use Condition, designation of Interim Trail Use, including a Statement of Willingness to Assume Financial Responsibility in response to the CSX Transportation/Seminole Gulf Railway application for abandonment.”

Efforts are also proceeding to draft language for a planned November 2018 County-wide referendum that, combined with a broad public fund raising effort and continued pursuit of grants, will finance both the Phase 2 acquisition of the corridor from CSX/SGR AND construction of both phases to extend the Legacy Trail to Payne Park in the city of Sarasota.

The future indeed looks bright for a dramatically expanded trail network in Sarasota County.

After the Fire, Rejuvenation

by Roger Normand

The Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) palm is a common sight along the Legacy Trail.  Features include thickened trunks growing horizontally along the ground, a stalk with sharp saw-like “teeth,” and a rounded fan of long, narrow leaves. It is a classic native Florida plant: drought and fire tolerant, growing in sandy soils.  In these pictures taken along the trail in Oscar Scherer State Park, the trunk still shows charred evidence of the prescribed burn conducted late last fall, yet the plants are thriving while any invasive plants are gone.

A little research revealed that these plants are very long lived (The Smithsonian reports some specimens may be 700 years old).  The grape-like fruit is an important food source for many animals, including the gopher tortoise, and the plants provide cover for a wide variety of wildlife, including the threatened Florida scrub jay.  The Saw Palmetto extract has a long history as an alternative medicine, most recently to prevent of treat prostate issues in men, though its therapeutic benefits have not been validated in scientific studies.

Protecting Gopher Tortoises & Their Burrows

by Roger Normand

Sarasota County is marking gopher tortoise burrows along the trail in preparation for side-arm mowing the sides of the trail.  The yellow caution tape serves to warn  the mower operator of a nearby burrow and potential nearby turtles.  A particular concern is the weight of the mower potentially collapsing the burrow and trapping the inhabitants.  Gopher tortoises are listed as a Threatened Species in Florida, and both the tortoise and borrow are protected under state law.  These land dwelling reptiles dig a network of borrows up to ten feet deep and 40 feet long, which they share with more than 350 other species!  Interestingly, these herbivores “prune” the plants they eat, usually leaving a healthy plant to regrow.

Please be respectful of wildlife.

Photos courtesy of Megan Donoghue & Roger Normand

County Commits First $ To Trail Extension

by Roger Normand

To the delight of Legacy Trail supporters, County Commissioners committed $8.6 million to buy the land for a 7.5 mile trail extension. No previous funds had been identified. It was the first visible step in turning vision to reality for extending the existing 10.6 mile trail along an unused rail corridor into a multi-use paved path to Payne Park. Once built, the 175,000 annual users could quickly double as the trail reaches the urban core of the City of Sarasota.

The County Commissioners identified the funds during a March 29th day-long budget review session to align funds with established priorities for the County’s FY 2018 program. As Commissioner Hines noted, “The Legacy Trail is a big picture effort with broad county, public and private support. It is a priority, so we have to start building a pot of funds for it.” This was the second of six planned monthly budget meetings before the start of the new fiscal year which begins on October 1, 2017.

County Commissioners decided to use $0.9 million in available mobility fees, eliminate two lower priority proposed park purchases in the County’s Neighborhood Parkland Program ($2.6 million to acquire the Myakka River Oyster Bar site and $4.0 million for the Vamo Drive site) and commit up to $1.5 million in expected new revenue coming into the program at the beginning of FY-18 and apply these assets towards the purchase of the corridor.

While enthusiasm ruled the day, the County must still identify another $11.4 million by this December to meet the terms of the $20 million, Phase 1 sale contract negotiated by its partner the Trust for Public Land with corridor owner CSX Corporation.  This first increment would purchase the rail corridor from the northern end of the trail at Culverhouse Nature Park to Bahia Vista.  We hope the next several budget workshops will identify the remaining $11.4 million funds consistent with the Phase 1 terms.

Phase 2 requires another $18M no later than March 2019 to bring the trail from Bahia Vista to Payne Park and Fruitville Road.  The County estimates the total land acquisition and construction cost at $56 to $60 million.

The fate of the State Representative Gruters HB 2109 bill now in the Florida Legislature to provide $15 million for the Legacy Trail remains uncertain.  However, the $8.6 million signals the County’s commitment to extend the Legacy Trail, and will certainly buttress efforts already underway to attract other public and private funds.  We commend the County staff and Commissioners for making this substantial initial commitment for the Legacy Trail.

Optimism Reigns on the Extension as County Looks for Internal Funds

by Roger Normand

Amid a sea of unmistakable yellow “Extend the Legacy Trail” shirts filling the audience, endorsements from many public speakers, and having received hundreds of supportive, personalized emails, the County Commissioners began to consider how to buy the land to extend the Legacy Trail into Payne Park at a 15 February 2017 Board of County Commissioners meeting. The outcome left extension advocates cheering as the Commissioners unanimously directed the County staff to go find County funding options to more quickly acquire the corridor rather than await a county wide referendum in the regular November 2018 election, as recommended by staff.

A key milestone was a just-signed sale contract for the 7.5 mile corridor from owner CSX Corporation and its lessee Seminole Gulf Railway to the Trust for Public Land (TPL), who partnered with the County to negotiate the sale terms. The parties have been negotiating for nearly one year. Once ratified, TPL would in turn transfer the rail corridor to the County at the same cost. The $38 million contract price is split into two phases. Phase one requires $20 million by the end of this year for the portion of the corridor between the current end of the trail at Culverhouse Nature Park to Bahia Vista. Phase two calls for $18 million no later than 2019 for the remaining length to Payne Park. Though the cost is more than most expected, several commissioners noted it is 14 percent below the appraised value. There was no visible opposition to the price tag.

But where to find $20 million in the County’s $1 billion budget by this December? Possible sources mentioned at the hearing included bonding, mobility fees, tourism tax, and a millage (real estate) tax rate increase. In exhorting the staff, Commissioners noted “nothing is off the table,” “staff, don’t eliminate options,”the trail it is an investment, not an expense.”

Conveniently, the first of a series of budget workshops was held on February 17, 2017. The workshop aims to review priorities for fiscal year 2018, which begins on 1 October 2017. The Commissioners aggressively pursued funding opportunities. “We are scrapping for money here,” said Commissioner Hines in a theme that applies to all budget review processes, not just to fund the extension. Potential opportunities to free funds included revising Surtax III spending plans (the 1 percent discretionary sales tax that the state allows charter counties to apply on top of the 6 percent state levy), scaling back or deferring some capital improvement projects, accelerating the sale of surplus county lands, and levying up to a 10 percent public service tax that the state allows counties to apply to electric, water and natural/propane gas bills. It was noted that eight counties charge the full 10 percent on all utilities, eight change some portion, and four, including Sarasota, change nothing. It was further noted that Sarasota County has some of the lowest millage rate in the state, and has not raised the tax rate in over a decade. Moody’s has just raised the County’s bond rating, which would lower the County’s interest payments if it opts to raise funds via a bond.

While the Friends of the Legacy Trail remain an unabashed supporter for the extension, we don’t believe the County should have to pay for the entire expected $60 million land acquisition and construction cost. We firmly believe and are pursuing other viable funding opportunities from private and other governmental sources. But these other potential sources first require the County to commit funds towards the purchase of the corridor.

Thanks to all our Friends who supported the extension effort at this critical time. We commend the County Commissioners actions….and urge our extension supporters to keep the momentum going.