Legacy Trail wins Top 10 spot in Rails-to-Trails Conservancy list for Florida

Trailhead naming initiative underway, with members of the public invited to participate

A still from a Sarasota County video shows bicyclists on The Legacy Trail. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Following a year in which The Legacy Trail broke a record for the number of users, the popular biking and walking route has been ranked among the Top 10 Trails in Florida by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

The list, posted on the Conservancy website on Jan. 1, notes that The Legacy Trail, which is “perched on Florida’s west coast, has a splendid opening: the Historic Venice Train Depot, a Mediterranean Revival-style building dating back to 1927 and once considered the finest station on the Seaboard Air Line Railroad.”

The Conservancy description adds, “Next to the depot stands a bronze statue of circus star Gunther Gebel-Williams — heralded as ‘The Greatest Wild Animal Trainer of All Time’ — a nod to the tracks’ usage by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. From here, the 10.7-mile rail-trail that now traces the line heads to the southern outskirts of Sarasota. Like much of the state, nature is close at hand along the route; watch for the trail’s many interpretive signs to identify and learn more about the regional flora and fauna, as well as signs about the area’s history.”

Image from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website

The Conservancy notes on its website that it is “building a nation connected by trails,” reimagining “public spaces to create safe ways for everyone to walk, bike and be active outdoors.” The website adds, “Since 1986,” the Conservancy “has worked to bring the power of trails to more communities across the country, serving as the national voice for the rail-trail movement.”

Among its other Top 10 Trails in Florida are the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail in Pinellas County; the Withlacoochee State Trail in Citrus, Hernando, Marion and Pasco counties; and the General James A. Van Fleet State Trail in Lake, Polk and Sumter counties.

Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) staff posted the news on its Facebook page on Jan. 21.

That was exactly a week after Leon Thibeaut told his fellow Sarasota County Tourist Development Council (TDC) members that the number of users on the Trail hit the 400,000 mark for the first time.

In fact, the Friends of the Legacy Trail reported that the total was 409,545. A member of the nonprofit, Stephen Martin, tracks the figures by month and provides documentation to explain how he arrives at them.

In 2019, the number of users was 291,510, according to a chart Martin provides on the Friends website.

This is the chart on the Friends of the Legacy Trail website. Image courtesy Friends of the Legacy Trail

The count for December 2020 was one of the highest last year, the chart shows: 37,815. March was the top month, with 52,175.

County commissioners and others have pointed out that, since the first novel coronavirus cases were confirmed in the county in March 2020, more and more people have taken to the Trail, seeing its use as a safe way to enjoy recreation.

A graph on the Friends of the Legacy Trail website offers a different look at usage by the month. Image courtesy Friends of the Legacy Trail

Name that trailhead

Additionally this week, PRNR Director Nicole Rissler and Megan Eidel, manager of PRNR’s Natural Areas and Trails Division, provided a Facebook Live update on the opportunity for members of the community to propose names for the three new trailheads planned for the North Extension, which will run from Culverhouse Nature Park on Palmer Ranch to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota.

Those three trailheads will be located at 4301 Ashton Road, 4010 Webber St., and 601 S. Pompano Ave. — all in Sarasota.

Megan Eidel (left) talks with Nicole Rissler on the site of the Pompano Avenue Trailhead on Jan. 20. Image from a Sarasota County Facebook Live video

Each will have different features, Rissler pointed out. For example, she said, “Webber is kind of nestled within a neighborhood, so it’s much smaller.” It will have a parking area and a restroom, she noted.

“Ashton gets a little bigger,” she continued, as it will have a playground.

Finally, the Pompano Avenue Trailhead will “be the largest one,” with dedicated pickleball courts, a bike safety course and a building with a community room. That trailhead will be located adjacent to the Sarasota County Fairgrounds, on the site where the former state driver’s license office was open for many years.

Asked how people can participate in the naming process, Eidel explained that they may submit names that comply with county guidelines provided for three categories: geographic location, historical value, or individual/group. Each submission, she continued, must have “some sort of documentation showing us that it meets our criteria.”

The naming submission period began on Jan. 17 and will conclude at 5 p.m. on Feb. 17, the county’s Legacy Trail Update webpage points out.

A fact sheet county staff has created explains the selection criteria as follows:

  1. “Geographic Location: clearly located or associated with a distinct location in or portion of the County, e.g., Bay Street Park.
  2. Historical Value: specific historical value or significance to the County, e.g., Indian Mound Park.
  3. Individual or Group: If naming the sites after individuals or groups, each name submittal must fulfill at least one of the following: A well-known, elected, appointed or volunteer community leader”; an “individual or group who has positively influenced a large populace of the county through a  significant contribution of money, time or material”; an “individual or group who had a major involvement in the acquisition or development of the facility”; or an “individual or group whose civic leadership contributed to the betterment of the community.”

The submissions may be emailed to parksonline@scgov.net, with the subject line including “Trailhead Site Name Submission.”

They also may be sent by U.S. mail to Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, Trailhead Site Name Submission, 1660 Ringling Blvd., 5th Floor, Sarasota, FL 34236.

An ad hoc committee will review all the submissions, Eidel explained during the Facebook Live event. Then the members will select names and forward those to the Sarasota County Commission for final approval.

“People should take the time to put together a nice name selection package,” Eidel added.

This is a rendering of the Webber Street Trailhead. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As for an update on how the work is going to extend The Legacy Trail to downtown Sarasota and to North Port, Eidel told Rissler, “The project is still moving at a steady pace.” A person looking down the corridor will be able to see “a lot of changes happening right now,” Eidel added.

The county webpage dedicated to the Legacy Trail projects says Segment 1 of the North Extension, from Proctor Road to Bahia Vista Street, remains on track “to be the first portion completed as early as summer 2021.” That page was updated on Jan. 12, it notes.

The webpage also says, “Design work is ongoing for both the North Port Connector and the Pompano Avenue Trailhead.”