TALLAHASSEE — The Withlacoochee State Trail, which runs through Hernando County, is closer to connecting to a network of greenways throughout the state thanks to a new multi-use Dunnellon Trail and Bridge.
The new trail, which was part of more than $11 million in improvements to state trails and parks over the past 10 months, brings the state within 2 miles of connecting the Withlacoochee State Trail to the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway. The Cross Florida Greenway is a key component of the Heart of Florida Loop, a multi-county regional greenway network, which is part of the larger statewide Florida Greenways and Trails Priority System. Connected trails provide recreational, economic, alternative transportation and quality of life benefits to local communities.
The improvements to trails and parks around the state not only make the sites more convenient for tourists, but many also increase accessibility for people with disabilities.
“Our parks and trails offer the chance for Florida residents and visitors to enjoy some of this state’s most treasured natural resources,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Ensuring everyone has equal access to these locations has been a goal of mine since I came aboard and I’m thrilled to see many of these projects wrapping up so residents and visitors can start enjoying them.”
Since November 2013, 18 parks and trails across the state have received upgrades. So far, 20 projects have been completed and four projects are projected to be finalized later this month. Improvement and accessibility projects remain a focus for the department and more than $19 million in funds has been allocated for fiscal year 2014-2015 to continue with additional projects.
“Camping, hiking and picnicking are some favorite activities for visitors to state parks and state trails,” said Director of the Florida Park Service Donald Forgione. “We’ve had a record number of visitors this past year. Providing updated facilities makes their visit even more enjoyable.”
Walkway renovations completed at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park provide access for visitors with disabilities as well as a much safer surface for all park guests. The aesthetically pleasing walkway enhances the park while preserving its historic value as colored concrete pavers that were produced on site in the late 1930s were restored and reused for the renovation project.
In addition, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. has approved six acquisition projects that close key trail gaps in the Florida Greenways and Trails Priority System. Funding for the projects will come from the department’s Florida Forever funding to the Office of Greenways and Trails.
“These projects will enhance recreational opportunities for Florida residents and visitors,” said Secretary Vinyard. “In simpler terms, these trails will enable the folks to get a little mud on their boots and bike tires.”
The projects include two trail gaps in Palm Beach County along the 63-mile Ocean to Lake Trail that runs from Hobe Sound Beach near Jupiter to Lake Okeechobee in Port Mayaca. The trail is used by hikers, bicyclists and equestrians.
Additionally, two projects will help close gaps in the 110-mile Cross Florida Greenway and another connects the Cross Florida Greenway to the 4,462-acre Indian Lake State Forest near Silver Springs in Ocala. An approved project in the Florida Panhandle creates a greenway along the scenic Chipola River in Jackson County, furthering a planned publicly owned corridor from Florida Caverns State Park to the county-owned Hinson Conservation and Recreation Area.
The approved projects have been given to the department’s Division of State Lands to begin the acquisition process.