Submissions Open for Greenways and Trails Acquisition Cycle
The Department of Environmental Protection is calling for proposals for the 2014 Land Acquisition Funding Cycle under the Florida Greenways and Trails Acquisition Program. This program is funded through the sale of bonds authorized under the Florida Forever Act. Approximately $2.5 million is available for this current acquisition cycle.
“The department is fortunate to be able to offer this acquisition funding support to assist communities throughout Florida. This opportunity could not have come at a more perfect time”, explained the Office of Greenways and Trails Chief, Samantha Browne. The allocation will assist with closing the gaps within the Florida Greenways and Trails Network as envisioned, emphasized and laid-out in the 2013-2017 Florida Greenways and Trails Systems Plan (Plan).
The Plan, applications for the 2014 funding cycle, the required forms and a copy of the rule containing detailed program requisites are available on OGT's Acquisition Program webpage. You may also request copies by calling 850-245-2052 or writing to the Office of Greenways and Trails at: Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Greenways and Trails, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., MS 795, Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000. Applications must be received by close of business April 25, 2014.
Trail Council Approves Top Tier Gap Projects
The 2013-2017 Florida Greenways and Trails System Plan outlines OGT’s vision for advancing Florida’s economy, tourism, health, alternative transportation, recreation, conservation and quality of life. Last year, OGT planners, Marsha Rickman and Robin Birdsong, fulfilled a key component of that plan by teaming with partners from local governments, municipal planning organizations and other interested parties to identify and evaluate gaps within the Priority Trails Network.
On Dec. 4, 2013, the Florida Greenways and Trails Council reviewed and discussed the recommended Priority Trails Network Top Tier Gap Projects. The spreadsheet matrix and statewide maps reflecting the top tier projects were approved.
The result of this work will help to target resources and funding to close key trail gaps in the near future.
Background details and additional information, including the top tier gap maps, can be found on the Florida Greenways and Trails System Plan page of OGT’s website.
Florida Ecological Greenways Network Updated
The Florida panther and Florida black bear are two far-ranging animals that require intact wildlife corridors and natural landscapes to survive. The Florida Ecological Greenways Network helps to identify those resources and plan for future connectivity throughout the state. The FEGN guides the Office of Greenways and Trails' ecological greenway conservation efforts and is an important data layer used by decision-makers in purchasing conservation lands under Florida Forever and other state and regional land acquisition programs.
One of the goals of the state greenways plan is to update the FEGN base boundary and priorities every five years. Beginning in 2010, the Conservation Trust for Florida and the University of Florida received a State Wildlife Grant to conduct a comprehensive update of the FEGN. Dr. Tom Hoctor of the University of Florida’s Center for Landscape Conservation Planning worked with a technical advisory group to develop the new FEGN with updated and new statewide GIS data identifying biodiversity, water resource and landscape conservation priorities.
The new FEGN was completed in July 2013 and approved by the Florida Greenways and Trails Council in Dec. 2013. Major changes in the new version of the FEGN include more emphasis on landscape and wildlife corridor conservation in south-central Florida, inclusion of intact landscapes from the coast to inland areas in anticipation of sea level rise, and consolidation of the former eight FEGN priority levels to six.
For detailed information and to get a closer look at the updates, visit OGT's Florida Greenways and Trails System webpage.
African-American Community Aims to Become Florida's Next Trail Town
Only in a car can you drop sharply away from high-speed four-lane SR 207 into Armstrong, a settlement where moms walk babies and folks chat on the narrow town road that abruptly ends in woods. Plop! The full juxtaposition.
Differently, trail walkers and bicyclists enter and leave through these same woods. But trails code users for different expectations, and the transition as we make our way to these woods is likely to be different, too.
Maybe on arriving in Armstrong we’ve already stopped at the historical sign that explains how the trail 130 years ago was the rail corridor for tapping the region’s farmlands. Fresh produce supplied the tables of the opulent hotels that revived ancient St. Augustine. Gullahs and Geechees from South Carolina came to work the fields. Some 300 to 400 of their descendants call Armstrong home today. “I know why you like it,” said Jasmin Hines, who talked to me recently while I waited for touring cyclists to show up in the recreational field of vendors and a blues band thinly covering the Allman Brothers from under a shed. “It’s the same as we like it. We’re all family here.”
Reviewing that tour, Ron Cunningham of Bike Florida later wrote, “I was a bit worried that, being the last day of our ride, some of our cyclists would be tempted to skip Armstrong and continue right on to St. Augustine. As it turned out, they were taken by how Armstrong residents welcomed us with open arms. The brunch was easily one of the high points of our seven-day ride.” That reception was anything but spontaneous.
The SEA Community – Spuds, Elkton, Armstrong – pursued Ron for months to make sure that brunch in Armstrong would be on Bike Florida’s tour.
That was almost a year after locals had celebrated the community’s 100th anniversary together with opening of the Palatka-St. Augustine State Trail. That day they hosted some 200 riders who showed up, including Donald Forgione, director of the Florida Park Service, trails and greenway and elected officials from the trail’s endpoint cities.
The trail today is paved and off-road for 8.5 miles. It’s part of the 260-mile St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop that’s almost halfway in place, getting built or funded, and already boasts signs of the East Coast Greenway posted in 2013 when the Greenway Alliance adopted the trail as part of its 3,000-mile Maine to Florida route.
“We started thinking how maybe Armstrong could achieve some economic development by catering to cyclists along the trail,” said SEA Community Executive Director Malinda Peeples. “People at the dedication sure had a good time.”
Now a year later, the North Florida Bicycle Club schedules Armstrong food stops for its weekend rides from St. Augustine. In May this year, new SunRail commuter trains will connect Orlando with the Loop where they meet at the Loop’s far southwest turn in DeBary. Trains will carry bikes free. Malinda is working to make sure that Armstrong is ready when cyclists come touring the Loop on their own, though Bike Florida also plans to develop train-trail tours.
Cyclists will soon find a paved path into the park and a trailhead. Malinda also plans to use income from cyclists who stop by to help match grants that will provide a welcome center with a café. There’s talk of a small grocery store, a community museum, and of getting a more frequent schedule by a mobile health clinic. In time, there are plans for overnight rooms.
Everything gets tested in late winter when Bike Florida will run its annual mass ride for about 1,000 cyclists along a northern portion of the Loop. That throng will stop in Armstrong its last morning. How does Armstrong plan to host numbers maybe three times its population? Malinda laughs. She rattles off the SEA Community’s relationship with the county’s helpful office of housing and community services, and with county parks and rec. The St. Johns County Fairgrounds sits just northeast on SR 207 if needed. "But we want our visitors to experience Armstrong itself. Our church has been here since the late 1800s. You know about black churches and farming families. We’re used to cooking big meals. Most of the year we feed migrants. Not that many in the Armstrong camp, but we sure know where the veggies are for a lot more.”
-Herb Hiller, Trail Enthusiast and Ecotourism Advocate
First Woman Completes Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail
31-year-old Jodi Eller of St. Augustine, Florida became the first woman to complete the 1,515-mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail that runs from Pensacola to Key West to the Georgia border. Eller paddled most of the trail in 2008 with husband Matt Keene, the first “thru paddler” of the trail and completed the remaining segments in late 2013.
“This trail is amazing,” she said. “It goes through so many different ecosystems. How the beaches change along the trail is just incredible. The trail made me a stronger paddler and it also redefined who I am in a way, bringing me back to the essence of being human. It’s a powerful experience to go through.”
Highlights of Eller’s trip included seeing a black bear cub in a tree along the Crooked River near Carrabelle, island hopping in the Indian River Lagoon and experiencing “perfect water conditions” for her last segment from Flamingo to Everglades City through Everglades National Park. Eller, a kayaking guide for St. Augustine EcoTours and an Environmental Science teacher at Flagler College, has this advice for paddlers interested in taking on the trail: “Do your research prior to your trip by reading everything on the trail website. Beginners paddling with friends can attempt this and build muscles and skill along the way, but it would be best to experience different types of water conditions first. Hopefully, more women will want to do it.”
Eller is the eleventh person to complete the entire Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail since its opening in 2008. Currently, two retired police officers from Charlotte, North Carolina, Marc DeLuca and Jim Windle, are paddling the entire trail. They are more than halfway through their journey. To read about the pairs experience check-out their online blog, or visit FloridaGreenwaysandTrails.org for more information on the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.
-Doug Alderson, Paddling Trail Aficionado, Asstistant Bureau Chief, Office of Greenways and Trails