Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Great news for the St. Johns River to the Sea Loop Trail

GOVERNOR AND CABINET APPROVE PURCHASE OF MUSSALLEM TRAILHEAD FLORIDA FOREVER PROJECT ~Project calls for development of trailhead in St. Johns County~ TALLAHASSEE – Governor Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet today approved the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) proposal to purchase, using Florida Forever funding from DEP’s Office of Greenways and Trails, a 24-acre parcel in St. Johns County known as the Mussallem Trailhead. The property, to be developed and managed by St. Johns County, will serve as a major trailhead in the region providing direct access to the State Road 207 Rail Trail and the “St. Johns River to Sea Loop” trail and preserving a significant amount of open greenspace. “Acquisition of this land will significantly enhance the State Road 207 Rail Trail and the St. Johns River to Sea Loop trail by providing an additional trail access point,” said Bob Ballard, DEP Deputy Secretary for Land and Recreation. “This project was made possible through collaboration with other state and local agencies and we are thankful to all the parties involved for enabling this project to move forward and benefit the area’s natural resources, local communities and trails.” The Mussallem Trailhead parcel was identified in 2007 as a priority Florida Forever acquisition within DEP’s Office of Greenways and Trails. Once developed, the Mussallem Trailhead, located west of Interstate 95 near St. Augustine, will provide a nature trail, picnic pavilion, restrooms, parking and interpretive signage. The trailhead will also provide direct access to the State Road 207 Rail Trail, a 19.4-mile abandoned rail corridor currently owned and being developed as a multi-use trail by the Florida Department of Transportation. The Rail Trail also connects to the “St. Johns River to the Sea Loop” trail. "Residents and tourists will enjoy the beauty of North Florida from this trailhead which will connect St. Augustine to Florida’s award winning statewide trail system,” said Cyndi Stevenson, St. Johns County Commissioner, District 1. “It will promote healthy lifestyles, invigorate local economies and encourage small business as part of the St. Johns River to Sea Loop." In September 2008, U.S. Representative John Mica and State Representative Bill Proctor joined delegates from Putnam, St. Johns, Flagler, Volusia and Brevard counties as they signed a memorandum of understanding calling for the more than 260 mile “St. Johns River to the Sea Loop” to be completely connected and paved by 2013, to commemorate the 500th anniversary celebration of Ponce de Leon's landing in Florida. “The Loop trail is quickly becoming a very popular attraction for bike tours and other recreational opportunities, underscoring the value of nature-based tourism,” said Jena Brooks, Director of the DEP Office of Greenways & Trails. “Projects such as these are complex and take time to come to fruition, but the investment is returned ten-fold in the ripple effect of economic benefits to so many communities and the added attractions for visitors.” Florida has been named by American Trails as “Best Trails State in America,” recognizing DEP’s Office of Greenways & Trails for its vision and leadership, which includes community assistance, land acquisition, public outreach and the management of eight state trails and the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway. The 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, equestrian activities and alternative transportation. For more information about Florida’s trails, visit www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt.

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