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
I am a frequent rider on The Legacy Trial and am always amazed at the diversity of users I encounter. The other day I was just short of my planned turn-around point at the Venice train depot when I did a double take on a low-slung trike going in the other direction. I got to the depot, turned, and started heading north.
I caught up to the triker, and we started chatting for the next several miles. “Nice rig you’ve got there” I said. Dick said he enjoys the exercise and freedom that cycling provides. As for the walker carefully attached to the back of his trike, well, he said, you do what you gotta do. Dick told me he was in the middle of a planned 30-mile ride, and that he really appreciates the safety afforded by The Legacy Trail and Venetian Waterway Park compared to riding on roads. I asked Dick if he minded my taking a picture of him riding his trike. Sure he said with a big smile. Later, as we parted ways, I told him that seeing him riding his trike made my day. Thanks he said with that big grin.
The sun was shining, the sky was a deep blue with few clouds, and the wind was now in our back. Another great day riding on The Legacy Trail. But what I will remember most about this ride was meeting Dick with the big smile on his trike with the walker on the back.
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.
Have you noticed how The Legacy Trail is remarkably free of trash? The vast majority of trail users follow the “if you carry it in, then carry it out” adage, or properly dispose of trash in designated receptacles along the trail. Nonetheless, some trash inevitably ends up along the trail. When it does, we are fortunate to have dedicated users like Ralph who combine a trail ride with trail cleanup. Ralph lives in a retirement community near the trail in Venice. He rides two to three miles a day, five days a week, on his specially outfitted trike equipped with a trunk for carrying the cans and other trash he picks up along on the trial. Ralph will be celebrating his 9th birthday decade in April 2016. We can count on him to stop and chat for a bit as he rides past our FLT Information Table at the Venice Train Depot.
Please do your part – don’t leave your trash on the trail. And the next time you see Ralph on the trail, please join us in thanking him for helping to keep the trail free of trash. Ride on, Ralph!
In a prior blog post, I talked about some of the changes coming to downtown Sarasota (namely, the construction of five new hotels), but I left out a very big change that really deserves a blog all to itself. I’m referring to the upcoming Legacy Trail extension that will connect the existing bike and walking trail that ends south of Clark Road to downtown Sarasota. If you’ve ever tried to get around Sarasota by bicycle during season, you would not exactly call the area “bike friendly.” With roads that are crammed to capacity with automobile traffic, there doesn’t seem to be much room for alternative transportation. But all of that is about to change.
Even if you are not a cyclist or into taking walks, you’ve probably heard about the benefits the Legacy Trail extension will offer our community: easier access to recreation, connectivity between communities and parks, an infrastructure that will encourage healthier lifestyles, and even a rise in property values near the trail. All great stuff for sure. Now factor in the new hotels and take into account that Ringling College in Sarasota produces some of the top computer design and animation students in the country (arguably the world) — then you start to see how this simple recreational bike and walking trail could be that “icing on the cake” to any tech-oriented business that’s looking at Sarasota as a possible place to break camp.
What specifically does a bike trail have to do with the computer and tech industry? The answer can be summed up in one simple word: millennials. An article by the National Association of Realtors highlights a big attitude change in the 35-and-under set toward transportation and the automobile in general. On average, the modern “young professional” grew up with computers and the Internet, is more conscious of both health and environment, and is considerably more thrift-minded thanks to heavier school debt and a Great Recession workforce arena. Urban environments that offer a solid infrastructure for bike commuting have tremendous appeal. According to Nerdwallet,“since 2000, the share of bicycle commuters in the country’s population has increased by more than 61%.”
For any modern business choosing what city to call home, a prime concern will be attracting talented employees; a big part of that will be the lifestyle offered by the surrounding area. With the Legacy Trail extension in place, commuting to a job downtown by bicycle will be a safe and enjoyable option for a large part of Sarasota. Among the many neighborhoods that will now have easy bike access to downtown include Sarasota Springs, South Gate Ridge, Bee Ridge, and Palmer Ranch.
The Legacy Trail extension could truly prove to be one of Sarasota’s greatest assets. With a bike-friendly infrastructure in place, a walkable downtown, easy downtown access for hotel patrons, a number of area colleges from which to hire young talent, and the beaches, restaurants, museums and other cultural attractions, Sarasota will hold tremendous appeal for both the modern tech startup and the millennial workers they will hire.
At the time of this writing, we are still possibly a few years out from the completion of the Legacy Trail extension and there could always be roadblocks ahead for its construction, but judging by the enthusiasm of both the local populace and the county for the project, the future of the Legacy Trail Extension seems very solid. If you would like more information on the Legacy Trail project or want to find out how you can get involved, the following websites are great places to start:
Beneath darkened, brooding skies they gathered at the historic Venice Train Depot for the 6th Annual Tour de Parks bicycle ride, sponsored by the Friends of the Legacy Trail. The weather forecast promised a good day; the misty morning suggested otherwise. Who would be right?
Nonetheless, they came, guided to parking areas by flashlight toting volunteers. They dismounted bikes from their automotive perch: mountain bikes; tri-bikes; beach cruisers; recumbents; single speeds, a few trikes. Many donned clip-in shoes. Others adjusted the brakes or added a few drops of chain lubricant on their bikes. They would be riding 62 miles – gotta make sure everything is just right. Other volunteers staffed a well organized, speedy registration process, handing out a commemorative t-shirt and food wristband for those who had pre-registered but had not picked it up at nearby bike shop Real Bikes the previous day.
Team members assembled. Friends from previous rides greeted each other and caught up on news. Newbies introduced themselves. “How are things at work?” “Have you been training for this ride?”
As in previous years, local restaurant and long time FLT supporter First Watch served bagels, muffins, yogurt and fruit for breakfast along with some fresh Florida OJ and a morning cup of joe: fuel to begin the day’s journey. Yummy. Our corporate sponsors Doctor’s Hospital, Sarasota Orthopedics Associates, Bucket Fillers, Venice Village Family Chiropractors, Bentley’s Boutique Hotel, Florida Ear & Sinus Center/Silverstein Institute set up tables and offered free trinkets and advice.
A quick pre-departure pit stop, and riders started to assemble on the trail, anxious to begin the day’s ride. There was a restless anticipation – let’s get going! As the clock struck eight o’clock, without fanfare, the wave of some 111 sixty-two milers and many of the thirty-seven milers headed north on the trail.
We soon crossed the trestles that span the beautiful, still waters of South Creek and Dona Bay. I noticed many cyclists looking up to eastern skies at the bright morning sun peaking through the clouds and fog as we rode over the trestles. It was a magical moment. It would be a great ride on what would prove to be a spectacular southwest Florida spring day with light winds, and mostly blue skies with just enough cloud cover to keep the temps comfortable.
We had over 425 enthusiastic riders for this year’s TdP, with the rest of the 37 and 15 milers leaving by 9 am. Riders ranged in age from 8 to 85 years. About two-thirds came Sarasota County, with half the rest coming from elsewhere in Florida, and the remainder from states as far as California and Maine. Six riders originated from other countries. About 50 volunteers provided food and drink at rest stops, served as route guides, or provided other administrative support. Thank you to local bike shops Sarasota Cycle and Bicycles International for providing SAG support.
This was my second time riding the 62 mile TdP. Many riders remarked how well marked the route was compared to last year – I didn’t need to pull out my map or cue sheet. The course offers a fascinating scenic diversity. I like riding through some of the many Sarasota area parks. I particularly enjoy the native scrubby plants along Oscar Scherer State Park, hoping to catch a glimpse of a soaring bald eagle, Florida Scrub Jays, or a gopher tortoise ambling across the trail. There are pastures with grazing long-horned cattle. The loop around along the narrow, winding trail through the canopy of hemlocks at Rothenbach Park provides an interesting change of pace.
Thirty-seven and 62-milers enjoy the final loop through Casey Key. Approaching Casey Key, I was forced to stop at the single lane 1920’s era swing bridge that had opened to allow a few pleasure boats passage. It’s a ride, not a race. I chatted amiably with a fellow TdP rider, the unmistakable smell of ocean air filling our lungs. Once on the Key, we rode along the winding, low-traffic ocean front road. It’s fun looking at the mansions of the rich and famous that line much of the road. A light breeze mixed the ocean air with that of the fragrant hibiscus that will brush against if you ride too close to the edge of the road. And then, suddenly, you are greeted with an expansive view of the ocean and bay. Wow.
In lieu of riding through a residential neighborhood after Rothenbach Park, this year’s course substituted a 3.5 loop around Nathan Benderson Park, site of numerous regional and national events, as well as the 2016 International world rowing championships. It’s a no-brainer tradeoff! The spectacular 400 acre lake is quite visible from heavily traveled I-75, which I’ve driven hundreds of times. It’s even better up close, cycling around the perimeter. What a transformation from what was once a borrow pit for the construction of I-75, with more improvements underway or planned.
I returned to the Venice Depot at about 12:30 pm, too late for some of the lunch time events. I’m told former County Parks & Recreation Director John McCarthy gave a rousing endorsement of The Legacy Trail and the TdP, as did Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines. I feasted on the pulled pork lunch prepared by Back Woods BBQ as I chatted with other riders.
Sure I was tired. That was the longest ride I’d taken in the still early 2015 season. But what a wonderful ride, with scenic views and the camaraderie of other cyclists of all abilities. This was the primary fund raising event for the FLT, raising over $10,000. I look forward to doing next year’s TdP. Perhaps you’ll join me.