Friday, August 8, 2008

Greenway tour will green Florida

From ECG News Online,a publication of the East Coast Greenway Alliance Bike Florida and the East Coast Greenway Alliance are organizing the ride. The Trust for Public Land is doing the logo. The Florida Wildflower Foundation and River of Lakes Heritage Corridor are bearing major financial load, while Florida's Office of Greenways and Trails together with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy as usual have either directly themselves captured the corridors to make everything happen or have inspired others to do so. Did I say the inaugural tour of the longest loop bicycle trail in the American Southeast? The start of wildflower tourism in Florida? A half-million users by 2014? Is something eventfully green happening that might change how people live in Florida or think about vacationing here? A milestone ride this November will debut Florida's new St. Johns River to the Sea Loop, a 260-mile trail that includes four counties of East Coast Greenway spine route and another of alternate. The ride does more. It has already built political and tourism constituencies for this one-of-a-kind trail. For Bike Florida, the week-long ride that November 15th departs the rural county seat of Palatka will launch a new annual tour that year after year will traverse the loop and mark its progress toward full off-road, paved standard. This year's tour is invitational, limited to 25. Future rides will be open to many more, and before the ride begins, maps and cue sheets on the Bike Florida website will let anyone start touring the loop on their own. Today, the loop satisfies Greenway standards for some 40 miles through western Volusia County, through eastern St. Johns County, and top-to-bottom through coastal Flagler County. The rest of the loop is either off-road unpaved or paved along mostly back roads. For Florida more broadly, the trail marks growing emphasis on locally resourceful recreation and tourism. The trail passes through one of the state's most wildflower profuse regions. By putting the trail on the map, the inaugural tour will not only more fully establish trail tourism in Florida but also market seasonal wildflowers to attract visitors in the way that "fall colors" does up north. Ironically, although not widely known for either trails or for wildflowers - Disney and opulent beach resorts tend to overshadow the state's more authentic character - Florida is a leading state for both. Major factor in the wildflower connection and for likely quickening the trail's off-road improvement is the 2013 Spain-in-Florida Quincentennial. That event marks the 500th anniversary of Florida's discovery by the Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon, who exploring the coast and inspired by its teeming wildflowers, named the land La Florida. Trail advocates are at work on special funding for the trail that will make it a focus for the Quincentennial, the first that marks Europe's continuous presence on mainland America. - Herb Hiller, Southeast Program Consultant

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