Ground officially broken on approximately 3.4-mile North Port Connector of The Legacy Trail

County Commission and administrative staff have encouraged Parks staff to complete surface extensions as soon as possible

Local elected officials and others gather under the tent in North Port on June 14, before the official groundbreaking. Nicole Rissler, director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, is at the podium. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With the morning sun bright on June 14, dignitaries sat under a tent at the end of West Price Boulevard in the City of North Port.

Sarasota County commissioners and staff, the members of the North Port City Commission, representatives of the Friends of the Legacy Trail and others were gathered for the next big step in the extension of The Legacy Trail.

After the conclusion of about 12 minutes of public remarks, a number of the attendees picked up shovels and formally broke the ground for the North Port Connector. That route, which will be close to 4 miles, will be paved to provide a genuine Legacy Trail-like experience for users, as Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, put it.

Rissler took a couple of opportunities that morning to emphasize that the surface-level extensions of The Legacy Trail, from Culverhouse Nature Park on Palmer Ranch to downtown Sarasota’s Payne Park, and from Venice to North Port, will be completed ahead of the original schedule — in 2022 instead of 2024.

Only the overpasses at Clark and Bee Ridge roads, as she has told the county commissioners, will remain unfinished until late fall of 2024. They will be projects of the Florida Department of Transportation.

At one point during her June 14 comments, Rissler thanked County Administrator Jonathan Lewis and his assistant administrators “for challenging us to be smarter, think more globally, be more creative and get this thing done faster.” She quickly noted, “I added that [last] part.”

A couple of times during her remarks, she also described the work on the extensions as the “race to completion.” In recent months, she and county commissioners have talked of the intense public interest in the projects, as signage has gone up with the construction of the three North Extension routes already underway.

During the November 2018 General Election, voters overwhelmingly supported a county referendum calling for the issuance of $65 million in bonds to pay for the North Extension and the North Port Connector. Afterward, former Commissioner Charles Hines was among board members who urged the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff to complete the surface segments as quickly as possible.

Heavy equipment is ready for the work to start. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Hines and former Commissioner Jon Thaxton, senior vice president of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, also were present for the June 14 celebration. Rissler recognized them, as well.

During his remarks, Commission Chair Alan Maio talked of conversations he had with North Port Commissioner Debbie McDowell and then-Mayor Vanessa Carusone, who had asked that the initial bond referendum language be revised to make it clearer that the route to North Port would be covered by the proceeds.

County Commissioner Ron Cutsinger noted that North Port actually will have three routes from Venice, one of which will take people through Deer Prairie Creek Preserve. The other is known as the South Powerline Trail, on which 7 of the 9 miles already have been improved, Rissler told the commissioners in an April 6 update.

During that April presentation, Rissler reminded the board members that they originally committed $2 million to the North Port initiative. Instead, the county is investing more than $7.2 million in the three routes, including the construction of a bridge over Deer Prairie Creek.

When The Legacy Trail opened in 2008, Rissler pointed out on June 14, it provided a 10-mile-long recreational route from the Venice Train Depot to Culverhouse Nature Park. After the North Extension to downtown Sarasota and the North Port Connector have been completed, she added, people will have nearly 30 continuous, paved, multi-use miles.

Maio emphasized the fact that the Trail will provide “safe recreational opportunities for walking, biking and running,” as well as “Old Florida” experiences. Both he and Rissler further pointed to the fact that the extensions, as Maio put it, represent “the connections we have with each other.”

This map shows details of the two unpaved routes, plus the route that will be paved, to connect Venice to North Port. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Rissler noted that approximately 400,000 people use the existing Trail each year, as documented by the Friends of the Legacy Trail nonprofit organization.

She offered “a special thank you to the Friends of the Legacy Trail for their unwavering dedication and support and motivation … for this project.”

Louis Kosiba, president of the Friends, was among those invited to participate in the shoveling of the first load of dirt that morning.

Commissioner Cutsinger emphasized the importance of the Trail to everyone as a means of reducing stress and improving health and quality of life.

He also gave a shout out to the Friends organization. “They did an awesome job.”

Elected officials and others scoop up the first shovels of dirt. Image courtesy Sarasota County

All five of the county commissioners were present, along with North Port Mayor Jill Luke, Vice Mayor Pete Emrich and Commissioners McDowell, Alice White and Barbara Langdon.

Further, Rissler recognized the Kimley-Horn consulting firm, which has been responsible for designing the extensions, and Jon F. Swift Construction of Sarasota, which is overseeing the project.

On July 6, Rissler pointed out, the ribbon cutting will be held for the first segment of the North Extension. That will run from Proctor Road to Bahia Vista Street in Sarasota.

As she concluded her comments, Rissler thanked the county commissioners for their support for the undertaking and, once more, with a laugh, referenced their direction for “getting it done faster.”