A trail feasibility survey is underway by the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), seeking public opinion on the features of a potential 12-mile trail connecting Gold Head Branch State Park in Keystone Heights to the Cecil Trail in Duval County.
The online survey is open until April 20 and asks questions about how the public uses existing trails, their preferred trail surface and which environments they enjoy using the trails in.
“We need to know if people are going to use it [the trail], how will they use it,” said TPO project manager Elizabeth DeJesus.
To get an idea if the new trail will need a paved, gravel or dirt surface, the public survey asks about the activities people use the trails for. If trail users are mostly runners, the TPO may advocate for a natural dirt path, but a paved surface will be recommended if users often push strollers or use wheelchairs.
DeJesus explained that the TPO only has a year to conduct their study and gather public opinions on the potential trail, but the process of creating the trail will take much longer.
“We say, in transportation, from concept to concrete can be up to 12 years or more,” said Public Affairs Manager Marci Larson.
The development of a new trail can take many years because the TPO must first find a feasible route, engineer how the trail will look and then fund the construction.
Figuring out if a trail will be possible requires a team to go out and study the proposed route, investigating if there are any obstacles that will prevent the path from working.
DeJesus believes that the path that is currently being proposed will have to be rerouted because a section passes near an airport.
While the process of creating the trail can be lengthy, understanding who the stakeholders are and getting their opinion on the trail is vital to the eventual construction.
“What the citizens say, the people who are familiar with the area… they offer all that information, and all of that plays into developing a plan,” Larson explained.
The proposed trail, connecting Clay County to Duval, should be eligible for the SUN Trail Program, where trails that span across and connect counties receive extra funding. Even with funding from SUN Trail, the project could take years to fund completely.
Larson and DeJesus believe there is a public demand for more trails in Clay County and are working to promote the project. After the online survey is completed, members of the TPO will use the information gathered to make recommendations as the project continues, said DeJesus.
“When you start a feasibility study, it’s not clear what the end product might be,” said Larson.
The proposed trail is subject to change, but the process is underway. Members of the public who are interested in the project can provide their input by taking the trail feasibility survey and participating in future public discussions.
To take the survey, click here.