FDEP provides funding through its Recreational Trails Program
Thanks to a unanimous Sarasota County Commission vote this week, the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR) will be able to move forward with the creation of the first bifurcated segment of The Legacy Trail.
Formally, the commissioners on Sept. 12 accepted a $400,000 grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Recreational Trails Program for the initiative. The county will need to provide a $497,000 match for the money, a county staff memo explains. More than 50% of that match will be coming from “various donations,” the memo adds, including $200,000 from the nonprofit Friends of the Legacy Trail and $40,000 from the Sarasota Manatee Bicycling Club. The rest of the matching money — $177,000 — will come out of North County Impact fees, a county staff memo says. The memo was included in the board’s packet for the Sept. 12 meeting.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection grant will be used for site preparation and construction of a 6-foot-wide, approximately 1.5-mile-long, hard-surface trail, with a 4-foot-wide grass median and a 2-foot-wide grass shoulder, from South Beneva Road to South Shade Avenue in Sarasota. That will allow for the separation of pedestrians from bicyclists on that segment of The Legacy Trail, the memo points out.
The grant also will help pay for the installation of maps and directional and educational signage, the memo adds.
During a June 25, 2020 Zoom update as county staff was preparing to break ground on the first segment of the North Extension of The Legacy Trail — from Culverhouse Nature Park on Palmer Ranch to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota — Nicole Rissler, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), talked about the concept of bifurcating sections of the Trail. As funding allowed, she said, the Trail could be split in areas where residential construction exists on both sides. Such a modification would reduce the need for bicyclists to alert pedestrians that they are approaching — as county staff has urged — in an effort to enhance safety on the segments.
Bicyclists are encouraged either to call out or to ring bells on their bikes, in an effort to prevent collisions with pedestrians.
The staff memo included in the County Commission’s packet for the Sept. 12 meeting notes that, as PRNR worked on the North Extension of the Trail, several sections “were designed and constructed with the goal of installing a bifurcated trail adjacent to the [14-foot] paved trail. This enhancement would separate cyclists from pedestrians, reduce user conflict and improve the overall user experience.”
The memo also points out, “With trail-use growing exponentially in the past few years, setting up the trail now for future improvement would be a vital next step to The Legacy Trail.”
Further, the memo says, in January 2022, the county’s Parks Advisory and Recreation Council members — who serve as an advisory board to the County Commission — voted unanimously to approve staff’s proposal to submit an application to FDEP for the funding for the first bifurcated segment.
On Nov. 30, 2021, during a celebration of the opening of the Ashton Trailhead on the first segment of the North Extension, Rissler announced that the Friends of the Legacy Trail and the Sarasota Manatee Bicycle Club “have pledged significantdollars” to enable county staff to create a bifurcated Trail in multiple locations, where space permits.
“We already have conflicts [between pedestrians and bicyclists],” she said, “because so many people love [the first two segments of the North Extension].”
(At that time, the segment of the Trail between Webber Street and Bahia Vista Street also had opened.)
Addressing the representatives of the two nonprofit organizations that day, Rissler added, “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts” for the offer of assistance.
Applause and whoops among the audience members resounded.
Along with having served as an advocate of the Trail for years, the Friends of the Legacy Trail provides user statistics on its website. Steve Martin, a member of the organization, explains on the website how he calculates the data.
Last year, Martin’s statistics show, 649,512 people used the Trail. That tally was up nearly 36% from the 479,043 figure for 2021.
Through July of this year, the chart shows, the count was 455,611.
The grant application, which also was included in the agenda packet, explains that The Legacy Trail opened in 2008, “providing more than 10 miles of paved trail from the Venice Train Depot to Culverhouse Nature Park. Prior to becoming a popular recreational trail, it was a railroad corridor that ran the Seaboard Air Line Railway, serving Sarasota and Venice for over 80 years.”
Then, on Nov. 8, 2018, the application continues, “Sarasota County voters approved a bond referendum to acquire and extend The Legacy Trail north nearly 8 miles, continuing along the existing railroad corridor to downtown Sarasota.
“As part of the extension project,” the application adds, “4.5 miles of trail were designed and constructed with the goal of installing a bifurcated trail adjacent to the [14-foot-wide] paved trail.”
Moreover, the application explains, “The Legacy Trail runs through many neighborhoods, over waterways and through the beautiful Oscar Scherer State Park. The northern portion of trail is much more urban, going through many neighborhoods and commercial areas. The extension is located within one linear mile of 27 schools. The bifurcated trails will be in the more northern portion of The Legacy Trail, catering to a much more densely populated residential and urban area.”