Segments 1 and 2 of Legacy Trail North Extension officially opened after Oct. 7 ceremony

Users have continuous route from Shamrock Park in Venice to Bahia Vista Street in Sarasota

County Commission Chair Alan Maio (third from left) officially opens Segments 1 and 2 of the North Extension of The Legacy Trail. Joining him are (from left) Nicole Rissler, Commissioner Michael Moran, Commissioner Christian Ziegler, Commissioner Ron Cutsinger and County Administrator Jonathan Lewis. News Leader image from a Sarasota County Facebook Live video

Under bright blue skies on the morning of Oct. 7, Sarasota County leaders celebrated another big achievement for The Legacy Trail.

A 9 a.m. ceremony marked the official opening of Segments 1 and 2 of the popular pedestrian and bicycling path. Those segments run from Culverhouse Nature Park on Palmer Ranch to Bahia Vista Street.

Segment 3 — from Bahia Vista Street to Payne Park — is scheduled to open by early 2022.

As she has numerous times over the past couple of years, Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), referenced the “race to completion” as she addressed what she noted was a big crowd of supporters on hand for the event near the Proctor Road beginning of Segment 1.

The assembled group no doubt found it fitting that a pair of bicyclists approached County Commission Chair Alan Maio from the rear just after he stepped to the podium for his remarks. The couple dismounted their bicycle and walked around the area designated for the festivities.

Bicyclists approach Commissioner Alan Maio as he begins his remarks on Oct. 7. Image from a Facebook Live video courtesy of Sarasota County

Since the 2018 referendum during which 71.2% of county voters authorized the issuance of $65 million in bonds for the North Extension and the North Port Connector of The Legacy Trail, Rissler pointed out, “Sarasota County staff have worked tirelessly to keep the project on track and bring The Legacy Trail Extension to life. In fact,” she added, “I am happy to share that the project is a full three years ahead of schedule.”

The latter comment won a big round of applause.

This graphic shows the three segments of the North Extension of The Legacy Trail. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Trail runs continuously from Shamrock Park in South Venice, through Venetian Waterway Park, north to Bahia Vista Street, Rissler noted.

A ribbon cutting had been planned in early July for the completion of Segment 1, she said, but uncertainty about the effects county residents might feel from Tropical Storm Elsa cancelled that celebration. “I did have to let it go,” she acknowledged.

(During his remarks, Maio talked of Rissler’s disappointment. “I believe she was in pain when she had to cancel this last time,” he said, noting that he understood she waited until the night before the event was to take place to make her decision. Given the rain that the county did experience, he added, it was a good decision.)

“We’re here today with beautiful weather,” Rissler said with a big smile on Oct. 7.

The Legacy Trail already has proven its popularity, she continued, in that data collected by the nonprofit Friends of the Legacy Trail show that more than 400,000 people used the paved route last year. The Trail has become a county destination, she pointed out, “much like our world-class beaches and our sports tourism venues.”

This is the latest chart posted by the nonprofit Friends of the Legacy Trail, showing how many people have used the paved route in recent years. Image courtesy Friends of the Legacy Trail

“I am so excited to be standing here today,” Rissler said, for the official opening of Segments 1 and 2 of the North Extension.

During his remarks, Maio told the audience, “I constantly hear from people who selected their home,” after deciding to relocate to the county, based on its proximity to The Legacy Trail.

He, too, noted the 2018 referendum, explaining that a community debate took place over whether to schedule that a year earlier. Finally, he said, he told supporters of the North Extension that he felt candidates for County Commission on the General Election ballot in November 2018 would tout the initiative during their campaigns. That would be further encouragement for citizens to approve the bond referendum, he indicated.

After the referendum passed, Maio continued, “Staff did a major change … in not building the Trail sequentially from the Culverhouse Nature Park north …” Instead, Maio pointed out, the decision was made to construct the flat segments first, knowing that it would take longer for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to build the two overpasses necessary at Clark and Bee Ridge roads in Sarasota.

The overpasses are on FDOT’s schedule for completion in November 2024.

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

Maio did not mention that then-Commissioner Charles Hines, who was present for the Oct. 7 event, emphasized to Rissler and her staff that they should make finishing the flat sections their top priority. That way, Hines pointed out, members of the public could go ahead and use those segments.

Maio did take the opportunity to tell the audience that the very first person to talk with him about the importance of The Legacy Trail was Bruce Dillon of Nokomis, who passed away earlier this year.

Maio alluded to the fact that the Friends of the Legacy Trail has asked that the County Commission name a 1-mile segment of the Trail in the Nokomis area for Dillon; that process has begun.

“He was the reason that we did this,” Maio said of Dillon’s advocacy for extending the Trail to downtown Sarasota.

In wrapping up the comments portion of the program, Rissler told the audience, “This effort has taken hard work from almost every county department.”

In March 2018, then-County Commissioner Charles Hines (sixth from left), county staff members and representatives of the Friends of the Legacy Trail (in the yellow T-shirts) celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Trail, which went from the Venice Train Depot to Culverhouse Nature Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Rissler also recognized the Friends of the Legacy Trail members “for their unwavering dedication to this project,” and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, which is based in Venice, for its steadfast support.

Finally, Rissler pointed out that Hosana Fieber, chief financial and operating officer of Tervis, whose headquarters is in Nokomis, had approached county staff three years ago about contributing some of the company’s recycled products to the county. Fieber noted that the company already was making mattress covers, Rissler said with a chuckle, but it would “like to do something a little bit classier” for the county.

“We did a lot of brainstorming,” Rissler continued, before agreeing that The Legacy Trail “was the right fit.”

As a result, she said, the company has donated benches and trash tumblers for the entire Trail. Eventually, Rissler added, new Tervis benches and garbage receptacles will replace the older ones, so all of them on the Trail will match.

At the conclusion of the remarks, County Commissioners Michael Moran, Christian Ziegler and Ron Cutsinger joined Maio, Rissler and County Administrator Jonathan Lewis as Maio used a set of oversize scissors to officially cut the ribbon for Segments 1 and 2.