by Roger Normand and Andrea Seager
The Friends of the Legacy Trail have learned that there is a verbal agreement to new terms between Sarasota County, their partner Trust for Public Land, and CSX Railroad and their lessee Seminole Gulf Railroad, to acquire a portion of an unused rail corridor to extend the Legacy Trail into Downtown Sarasota!
The new agreement replaces previously negotiated terms calling for a two-phased acquisition with $20 million for phase 1 by December 2017 and $18 million for phase 2 by 2019. The County had allocated $8.6 million toward the extension during 2018 budget review sessions earlier this year, but was unlikely to achieve the remaining balance by this December. They asked the Trust for Public Land to renegotiate the terms based on the available funds.
The revised terms apply the available $8.6 million to buy the portion of the rail corridor from the northern terminus of the Legacy Trail at Culverhouse Nature Park, over Clark Road, to Ashton Road with closing in December 2017.
Once purchased, the County can begin applying for development and construction grants, and Friends of The Legacy Trail and our partners can begin fundraising in earnest for the extension.
The parties are working to finalize the revised terms and conditions before submitting it to the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) for approval expected later in August.
Stay tuned for further details, including the specific date and time for the BCC meeting. We will need all Legacy Trail Extension supporters to show up in Commission Chambers in their FLT yellow shirts to support this land purchase!
For questions, please do not hesitate to contact us here.
The county has started work today, August 8, to relocate utilities where The Legacy Trail crosses Laurel Road. This work is being done in preparation for building a Legacy Trail bridge over Laurel Road.
The utility relocation work is expected to last approximately three months.
The Legacy Trail intersection crossing Laurel Road will be closed, and trail users will be detoured to cross East of The Legacy Trail at Mission Valley Estates.
For questions, call the Sarasota County Contact Center at (941) 861-5000.
Bay Street, which extends from Tamiami Trail to The Legacy Trail Osprey Junction Trailhead (see map), is going to be extended east, across the trail, to Honore Avenue. The Osprey Junction Trailhead will be closed for construction starting August 2, 2017 and lasting approximately 12 months.
The Legacy Trail will remain open for the entire length of project.
Starting approx. 8/1/17 the port-o-let will be removed from OJT/Legacy Trail intersection. In addition to this, all signs, picnic areas, kiosk and water fountain within the project corridor will be moved or removed and stored until end of construction.
Pedestrian access from the existing Bay St. to the Legacy Trail will remain open but watch for signage as a new temporary access trail will be opened to the north of the existing access trail during road construction.
Other access points to The Legacy Trail are (see map):
- Culverhouse Nature Park: 7301 McIntosh Road Sarasota
- Oscar Scherer State Park: 1843 South Tamiami Trail Osprey
- Laurel Park Trailhead: 509 Collins Road Nokomis
- Nokomis Riverview Park
- Nokomis Community Center: 234 East Nippino Trail Nokomis
- Patriots Park: 800 Venetia Bay Blvd Venice
- Venice Train Depot: 303 East Venice Avenue Venice
For questions regarding the Bay St. Extension Project, please contact Ferdie Barnard at Ferdie.Barnard@stantec.com; 941.225.7600
For questions regarding The Legacy Trail/Osprey Junction Trailhead, contact Megan Donoghue at firstname.lastname@example.org; 941-861-5126
by Roger Normand
The $8.6 million identified so far by the County is well short of the $20 million required by December 2017, as negotiated for the first acquisition phase. It also appears increasingly unlikely that the rest of the $20 million will be secured in time. So the question to extend the Legacy Trail to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota becomes: Is $8.6 million enough for the parties to renegotiate and CSX to sell a shorter than planned segment of their unused rail corridor to Sarasota County? The parties must quickly decide whether or not to proceed as the County and the Trust for Public Land need about six months to conduct their due diligence review of the property before the planned December purchase.
TPL, partnering with the County, came to terms to acquire the 7.5 mile long corridor and spurs from owner CSX and their lessee, Seminole Gulf Railroad, in February 2017 for $38 million. That amount was split into two phases: Phase 1 from Culverhouse Nature Park to Bahia Vista for $20 million by December 2017; Phase 2 to Payne Park for $18 million by March 2019. The due diligence includes conducting a hazardous materials environmental assessment, title search, and boundary survey.
Despite the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) directing the County Administrator to begin efforts to acquire the corridor in April 2015, no funding was included in the County budget to support the purchase. The BCC began in mid February 2017 to grapple with funding options, and in mid March reprioritized $8.6 million in existing and expected 2018 County Parkland acquisition funds to apply towards buying the unused rail corridor. However subsequent BCC meetings have identified no further funds.
While there are still a number of planned BCC budget meetings before the start of FY-18 on October 1st, there appear to be few attractive opportunities for marshaling substantial more funds for the extension. The BCC has discussed tax increases on utility services and the county millage rate, both already at or near the lowest rates among Florida counties, to fund new initiatives including extending the Legacy Trail. But even if enacted, revenue would not be received in time to be included in the December payment to CSX. Bonding for the December payment is no longer an option, as the County attorney has ruled that bonding on the phase 1 acquisition would preclude the option to bond again for the second acquisition phase.
Representative Joe Gruter’s bill in Tallahassee to provide $15 million for the Legacy Trail failed to garner support from this year’s State Legislature. Efforts by several local foundations to quietly pursue private donations from wealthy trail supporters remains a work in progress. An Operating agreement between the County and The Friends of Legacy Trail which includes fundraising authority remains in review by the County staff, and must still be approved by the BCC.
We hope the parties agree to promptly and equitably revise the sale terms to acquire $8.6 million worth of the extension, and the County and TPL proceed with its due diligence to meet the December planned settlement. We remain firm in our conviction that other governmental and private funds will materialize AFTER the County owns some segment of the extension. The Friends of the Legacy Trail are developing and, once acquired, will be ready to launch a number of fund raising and promotional efforts to support the extension. A possible November 2018 voter referendum could provide the balance of land acquisition and construction funds.
by Roger Normand
Sarasota County began mowing the sides of the trail this week. In this subtropical climate, it doesn’t take long for vegetation to rapidly encroach onto the pavement, or for roots to undermine the asphalt. The County is using what can only be described as One Mean Mowing Machine, with an articulating sidearm mower deck than can reach the edges of the raised trail surface. A flagger vehicle accompanies the mower to ensure trail closure. The mowing operation carefully avoids previously marked areas denoting the location of gopher tortoise burrows. Debris is blown off the trail after mowing is completed on each trail segment. The mowing operation is expected to extend through at least June 2. Stay tuned for updates.
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.
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
by Steve Martin
Friends of The Legacy Trail has donated a new, more accurate, trail counter to the County Parks Department to monitor traffic on The Legacy Trail. Pictured, Jon Robinson, Division Manager, Natural Area Parks, Preserves and Trails (left), receives the counter from John League, President, Friends of The Legacy Trail (right).
FLT has performed two surveys in the past year to evaluate trail usage and user characteristics. The results of these surveys and analysis were recently used to increase the calculated trail usage from 120,000 to 175,000 users per year. Another finding from these surveys was that the currently-used trail counters are significantly under-counting trail usage. An investigation of alternative counting devices and technology led to the selection of the more accurate Eco-Counter device donated by FLT to the county.
Having accurate data to demonstrate the popularity of The Legacy Trail is very important in seeking financial support for the trail and the trail extension to Sarasota. This activity is currently being performed by both the County Parks Department (Thanks Megan!) and members of FLT. In the trail business the saying is “If we don’t count, we don’t get counted.”
by Darryl Lang
Yesterday on the Trail, just north of Laurel Rd I took this picture of “Pedaled Pete.”
That is the name I’ve given this Gopher Turtle that I’ve been seeing on the Trail for the past two years. I named him Pedaled Pete because the injury to his shell is about the same size as a bicycle tire and if you look closely you can see what look like tread marks!
I haven’t seen Pete in months and was worried that his time had come. So I was pleasantly surprised to see him yesterday. And he must have been happy to see me too because he let me take a lot of close up pictures without retreating into his shell!
by Roger Normand
TBARTA (Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority) held its second workshop of the year on March 29th in Sarasota with representatives of the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT), FDOT, Counties, MPO, and community advocates including the Friends of the Legacy Trail. The diverse group met to refine proposed routes for the Gulf Coast Trail and enhance regional coordination. This non motorized, off road, multi use trail will span from St Pete to Naples as part of the Florida SUN (Shared Use, Non motorized) statewide network of connected regional trails. Updated maps are due to OGT by June 30 to compete for the next cycle of $25 million in annual SUN trail funds.
The most noticeable change in maps for the Sarasota/Manatee area is pursuing two alternate routes as the Gulf Coast trail leaves Hillsborough County and enters Manatee county: a Western Coastal Route would head west along the Willow Allentown Trail then south along Anna Marie Island and Longboat Key, returning to the mainland on the Ringling Bridge; An Eastern Wilderness Trail would head east then south along the Gateway-Greenway trail traversing county lands, through Babcock Ranch (a major new planned community east of I-75), reaching Fruitville Road in Sarasota. Both routes would unite in Payne Park before heading south along the Legacy Trail, Venetian Waterway, and along Manasota Key Road. Click here for a map of the proposed routes.