With endless summers and long, flat stretches of pathways, picturesque terrain and unique wildlife, it's easy to see why so many people love Florida trails.
And despite recognized challenges, Floridians around the state have been generating lots of sweat equity in the alternative transportation scene these days. They are working to get new projects completed and making the landscape safer and more convenient for the growing number of people who are choosing biking and walking as their mode of transportation.
Here are just a few of the great things we see happening in Florida at the moment. Got suggestions of your own? Let us know!
1. A Trail Across the State: In the spring of 2013, Florida announced that it was moving forward with a $50 million investment to develop a 275-mile trail network connecting the Gulf of Mexico with the Atlantic Ocean. The project aims to fill gaps between existing trails from Canaveral National Seashore (east coast) to St. Petersburg (west coast) and will result in one of the longest continuous biking and walking paths in the United States. Sweet.
Trail tourists from as far afield as Europe have already expressed their desire to make the trip for this coast to coast adventure that would be an enormous boost for Florida's outdoor recreation economy.
2. A Bridge for People Over Tampa Bay! Thanks to the passion and commitment of RTC champions like Brian Smith, the first six-mile section of the Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail was completed in fall 2013. The construction of the causeway trail would not have happened without the diligent advocacy of Smith and other trails supporters in Florida. It now provides a safe option for biking and walking were before was only a narrow and dangerous road shoulder that actively discouraged such activity.
More good news to come: Construction of Phase 2, a 3-mile stretch between the Hillsborough-Pinellas border and Bayshore Boulevard, is scheduled to begin in early 2014.
3. The Trail Network Developing Out of Palatka: There is a real buzz around St. Johns and Putnam counties in the northeastern part of the state, and a lot of that has to do with a burgeoning trail system that is attracting the attention of tourists and planners across America. Emerging from the city of Palatka, this incredible trail network, that includes many miles of rail-trail, will eventually connect St. Augustine and Lake City and cross over the St. Johns River, a distance of more than 100 miles through seven counties.
And locals and really starting to embrace what the new trail will mean to their economy. Organizations like Putnam Blueways & Trails are promoting great new initiatives like "Bike to Eat" and the 2014 Florida Paddler's Rendezvous. Sounds delicious. And fun.
4. Friends of the Legacy Trail: This very-switched on nonprofit group out of Sarasota County (legacytrailfriends.org) has for many years helped drive the development of the 10.6-mile Legacy Trail, which since 2008 has become one of the most beloved recreational and tourism assets along the Florida Gulf Coast. (Thanks Mike Gippert for the great pics!)
Now, this energetic org is partnering with the Community Foundation of Sarastota and local businessman Jesse Biter to rally support for an eight-mile extension of the trail into downtown Sarasota. So far their passionate advocacy has helped secure $75,000 in county funds for an estimated $150,000 expansion study, and the partners are currently hard at work on raising the rest! Go team!
5. Completing the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail: It might seem like an impossible task - building a rail-trail of more than 100 miles leapfrogging across the spectacular Florida Keys. But it's happening. Spearheaded by Florida's excellent Office and Greenways and Trails and a host of local agencies and supporters, the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail is two-thirds of the way to realization.
And, as the rail-trail becomes a massive attraction for tourists, local businesses and residents are leading the chorus of support for its completion. It goes to show, where there's a will there's a way.
6. Where It's At - Volusia County: The opening of the first section of the East Central Regional Rail Trail in 2013 was just the latest manifestation of the tremendous energy for biking and walking in this growing region of the state.
Thanks to terrific champions like councilmember Patricia Northey, Volusia has decided that Florida must improve on its ranking as the most dangerous state in America for pedestrians. With a proactive council, a business community focused on tourism and attracting new entrepreneurs, and local residents eager for healthy recreation and transportation options, Volusia is well on its way as the rising star of the Florida trails scene. (Want to get rolling? Check out the Daytona Beach Bicycle Club - very cool).
7. Dedicated Volunteers of the Withlacoochee: Already one of the longest rail-trails in Florida at 46 miles, the Withlacoochee State Trail north of Tampa is getting a lot of love these days from a tremendous volunteer organization dedicated to maintaining and promoting the trail.
Managed by the Rails to Trails of the Withlacoochee Citizens' Support Organization, this volunteer Friends of the Withlacoochee group recently renovated a trestle bridge in Inverness, saving the State of Florida $50,000! And, twice a week you're likely to see these committed locals trimming trees and brush, repairing asphalt or refurbishing shelters or benches. They even have a volunteer who builds bluebird houses and monitors their fledges. Sounds like a true "calling."
8. Miami's Booming Bike Scene - Part 1: Riders in Miami have had huge success in growing the local biking culture, boosting ridership numbers and putting active transportation in the main stream in Florida's vibrant heart. Through events like Critical Mass, bicyclists and other self-propelled commuters such as skateboarders, inline skaters and roller skaters are taking to the streets in record numbers. Since 2007, Critical Mass, propelled by the excellent advocacy blog www.themiamibikescene.com, has boomed from about 20 riders to more than 3,500 participants per event.
And America is taking notice - Miami was recently named a top 50 bicycling city in America by Bicycling Magazine.
9. Miami's Booming Bike Scene - Part 2: We are huge fans of the Magic City Bicycle Collective, a nonprofit, community-driven bike center managed by volunteers. Since June 2012, the collective has served as a workspace for bike repairs and bike education and repository for affordable bicycles, and is supported almost entirely by donations. The collective's goal: empower the local biking community.
10. The Power of Pedals in South Florida: For children to develop into strong leaders, they need the right tools. In South Florida-that's wheels! At least it is for four community-serving orgs, Lauderdale Lakes Community Redevelopment Agency, Urban GreenWorks,FLIPANY and Pinewood Elementary. Through RTC's Earn-A-Bike program in South Florida, they are empowering more than 200 underserved children in local neighborhoods to "earn-a-bike" and learn life skills through extracurricular programs that teach bike safety, maintenance and laws-of-riding.
"Most of our students walk to school because they don't have an alternative," said Pinewood Elementary Principal Karla Gary Orange. "It is such a powerful feeling to be able to show our students that if they can perform throughout the year, they will earn a bike at the end of the year."
We know there's a lot more out there that deserves attention. So we want to hear from you! Do you know of a trail, project, local organization or citizen that deserves recognition in our celebration of Florida this month? Tell us! E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org., or share through our facebook, twitter or instagram feeds -#RTCFlorida.
We'll be covering great stuff happening in Florida all this month, so be sure to stay in touch for the big news and best stories out of the Sunshine State.