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Saturday, November 15, 2008

St. Johns River to the Sea Loop bicycle tour gets rolling

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 14, 2008 CONTACT: Amy Graham, (850) 245-2112 or (850) 778-7258 “ST. JOHNS RIVER TO THE SEA LOOP” BICYCLE TOUR gets rolling ~Inaugural St. Johns River to the Sea Loop Invitational Bicycle Tour highlights Florida’s trails~ PALATKA— The inaugural “St. Johns River to the Sea Loop” Invitational Bicycle Tour hosted by Bike Florida gets rolling Saturday when a group of bicycle enthusiasts embark on a 260-mile loop trail tour beginning in Palatka. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Office of Greenways & Trails is a key partner in the week-long bike tour, during which roughly 20 invited cyclists will wheel their way clockwise through Putnam, St. Johns, Flagler, eastern Volusia, Brevard and western Volusia counties, beginning and ending in Palatka. The event takes place as demand for affordable recreation, alternative transportation and trail development continues to grow and aims to encourage the development of this and other trails throughout the state. “Bicycle touring is growing in popularity nationwide and we see a great future for this type of tourism in Florida,” said Jena Brooks, Director of DEP’s Office of Greenways & Trails. “This inaugural loop tour is a model concept that fits perfectly with our statewide mission to connect trails to communities and create alternative transportation routes.” Overnight stays along the tour are scheduled for St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Titusville, DeBary and Crescent City. The route for the “St. Johns River to the Sea Loop” consists of roughly 40 miles of intermittent paved and unpaved trails. The remainder of the trail follows both paved and unpaved back roads. In September, U.S. Representative John Mica and State Representative Bill Proctor joined delegates from the five counties as they signed a memorandum of understanding calling for the “St. Johns River to the Sea Loop” to be paved and off-road by 2013. The loop is the longest multi-use loop in the southeastern United States. “It’s back to the future,” said Herb Hiller of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, a writer and longtime trail advocate who has led the development of the “St. Johns River to the Sea Loop Tour.” “One hundred and fifty years ago visitors came from everywhere for natural Florida. They keep coming for parks and conservation lands. Now, we want this and all trails to attract still more eco-travelers.” The bicycle tour route is lined with Florida wildflowers, much the same way the floral landscape greeted Ponce de Leon when he sailed to the Florida coast in 1513 and named the land “La Florida.” Florida’s abundant wildflowers offer a fresh approach to green tourism in the state, and add appeal to the bike loop which advocates hope to feature in 2013, during the 500th anniversary celebration of Spain in Florida. Trail advocates expect as many as a half-million visitors a year for this loop trail, in a state which already attracts more than three million visitors to its greenways and trails. In addition to Bike Florida, chief sponsors of the inaugural tour include the East Coast Greenway Alliance, Florida Wildflower Foundation, the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation, River of Lakes Heritage Corridor, and the Trust for Public Land. Florida’s Greenways and Trails system offers countless activities that cost little or no money and can be found close to home. There is also an economic benefit in hitting bike trails, according to a report by the Outdoor Industry Foundation, three out of every four Americans participate in active outdoor recreation each year, contributing $730 billion annually to the U.S. economy, supporting nearly 6.5 million jobs nationwide. To view the Foundation’s report, visit www.outdoorindustryfoundation.org. The DEP’s Office of Greenways & Trails manages eight state trails. The Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway is Florida’s longest green corridor stretching 110 miles from the St. Johns River near Palatka to the Gulf of Mexico near Inglis. Of the eight state trails, six are rail-trails, which are railroad corridors converted to recreational trails for hiking, biking, skating and equestrian activities. Through the state’s premier land acquisition program, Florida Forever, $4.5 million is allocated annually to purchase and preserve land for Florida’s greenways and trails. For more information on Florida’s greenways and trails, visit www.floridagreenwaysandtrails.com. For more information on the event, contact Herb Hiller at (386) 547-0395 or hiller@funport.net.

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