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Florida Rail-Trails a Model for America's Great Outdoors

Launched in 2010, America's Great Outdoors (AGO) initiative represents a unique effort by the federal government to reconnect an increasingly urban and sedentary American population with the nation's parks, trails and open spaces.

In the past 12 months, AGO leaders have been visiting sites all over the country to learn about how various municipalities and recreation groups are promoting outdoor recreation and learning in their regions--a listening tour that took in a range of landscapes, from urban high schools to protected wilderness. The result was one of the largest conservation-related public dialogues in our nation's history.

A few weeks ago, about 18 months since AGO was launched, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar released a progress report heralding some of the most successful efforts to promote healthy recreation and outdoor tourism across America. AGO findings will come as no surprise to supporters of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy: trails are one of the most critical pieces to encouraging more Americans to be active and to explore their natural surroundings.

The developing 50-mile East Central Regional Rail-Trail (ECRRT) in central Florida was one of the projects singled out in Sec. Salazar's report. RTC's Florida field office was instrumental in the early stages of the ECRRT, which was purchased by the state of Florida Office of Greenways and Trails in 2007 and is the longest out-of-service rail line ever purchased in Florida.

RTC's involvement with the ECRRT goes back almost 20 years, during which time we worked closely with the railroad that owned the line, as well as the local agencies applying for funding to purchase the corridor.

Volusia County is currently constructing the first of what will be a number of segments, as that county, under the leadership of County Chair Frank Bruno and Vice Chair Pat Northey, continues to build a strong and connected trails landscape. When completed, the ECRRT will link a number of urban centers with rural areas, providing a pathway for both commuters and recreational users.

A press release issued by Sec. Salazar's office last week stated that "while Interior cannot commit to federal financial support for the projects identified in the report due to budgetary constraints, Secretary Salazar is committed to doing everything possible to advance each project in the coming year through whatever means available."

RTC's long history of involvement with trail-blazing efforts in Florida was also evident in Salazar's heralding of another trails project: the Shingle Creek Trail. RTC is part of a multi-jurisdictional design team working on the Shingle Creek Trail, which, when completed, will stretch 32 miles through one of Florida's most urban regions, from the Wekiva River in Seminole County to Lake Tohopekaliga in Osceola County. It will also link to the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile network of multi-use trails and greenways along the Atlantic Coast from Canada to Key West, Fla.

Completing the Shingle Creek Trail will increase access to the river and provide recreational opportunities in urban Central Florida, a perfect example of why trails are a lynchpin of the AGO's effort, which connects recreational and transportation goals with key public health challenges.

"With children spending half as much time outside as their parents did, and with many Americans living in urban areas without safe access to green space, connecting to the outdoors is more important than ever for the economic and physical health of our communities," says Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in an introduction to this month's report.

Other trails projects noted in the AGO progress report include the Jordan River Parkway, a paved trail that crosses three counties and runs more than 50 miles from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake, the Colorado River Heritage Greenway Park and Trails, and the Three Rivers Greenway around Columbia, S.C.

For more information on the AGO initiative, visit americasgreatoutdoors.gov.

Photo by Boyd Loving/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

Posted Tue, Oct 25 2011 1:09 PM by Jake Lynch

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