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 October 28, 2014

Published by: Florida Greenways & Trails Foundation

Economics of Ecotourism

Rob Ern in the Big Frog 65
mountain bike race, Ocoee, TN.

Cyclists prepare for their weekly ride
Brick City Bicycles in Ocala.
By Rob Ern
Principal: Booth, Ern, Straughan & Hiott, Inc.
Partner: Brick City Bicycles
Board Member: FGTF 

Ecotourism and all of its economic development opportunities are coming to the Coast to Coast Connector. Think bed and breakfast inns, restaurants, and retail stores – as pedestrians and cyclists enjoy nature and spend money to enhance their experience along the way.  I should know – as an avid cyclist and owner of a local bicycle shop, I have seen first-hand the impact trails can have on a business and entire city.
In fact, my business partners and I have purchased a larger space and are relocating our bicycle shop in downtown Ocala, largely because the city has committed to building and maintaining paved trails through the city core.  In a few years, we will be able to steer customers right out of our back door to test ride or rent a bike.  We will continue to grow our partnership with the city of Ocala to provide bike valet services for even more downtown events, and host more bike races that attract people from all over the state.  Relationships like these between city and county governments and local businesses around a trail are mutually beneficial and financially attractive.  Not to mention fun for the whole family.
I look forward to seeing our Sunshine State embrace ecotourism and benefit from this golden economic opportunity as it makes its way from coast to coast.
For the Trails,

Amendment 1
The Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment
Members of Florida’s trail community: Arm yourself with the facts before casting your vote on Nov. 4.

What is Amendment 1? If passed, it will allocate about 1-percent of the state budget to ensure Florida’s precious waters and natural areas will be protected for future generations. Specially, the amendment requires the money to be spent to “acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands” including the Everglades, drinking water sources, fish and wildlife habitat, beaches and shores, recreational trails and urban open space, and historic geologic sites. 

Where will the money come from?  Amendment 1 “funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund…by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years.” 

What it means for Florida trails? Access to these state funds for improvements to existing and planned trails of all types – hiking, paddling, equestrian, and multi-use paved trails.

The Florida Water and Land Conservation amendment to the state constitution will be on the ballot on November 4.  Read the full ballot language
Gap by Gap: Orange
Click on the map of the
Orange Gap to enlarge.

A cyclist enters the Seminole Wekiva Trail.

Each issue of the C2C Connector will highlight one of the 7 gaps between the existing local, regional, state, and federal trails along the Coast to Coast project.  

Stretches of remote forests, pristine shorelines, and charming communities comprise most of the scenery along the existing local, regional, state, and federal trails to be joined into one cross-Florida trail, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean through Central Florida.  While some sections are scenic, some are more practical – connecting trails via neighborhoods, industrial parks and local roads.  One such section is the Orange Gap in Orlando, which will connect the West Orange Trail in Southwest Orange County to the Seminole Wekiva Trail in Seminole County.
Now just a regular sidewalk for neighborhood subdivisions, a 1.3-mile stretch of Clarcona-Ocoee Road in Northwest Orlando will soon be getting a major upgrade.  Funded for design as part of the Orange Gap, the Clarcona-Ocoee Road Connector will be a vital link in the Coast to Coast Trail. 
The second section of the Orange Gap is a 3-mile extension of the Pine Hills Trail, which is funded for a PD&E study next year.  This trail will follow a power line corridor along US-441 and Beggs Road through an industrial area and end at the Seminole County line.
The key feature of both sections of the Orange Gap according to MetroPlan Orlando Transportation Planner Mighk Wilson: residents of Pine Hills and the subdivisions along Clarcona-Ocoee Road will soon be able to access 250-miles of beautiful paved trail from their backyard, or just hop on their bike and cruise down to the store or dinner – safer, easier, and more enjoyable.
C2C Summit Makes History
Trail history was made on October 1 when more than 140 transportation planners, local business owners, elected officials, and trail enthusiasts across the state congregated in Downtown Winter Garden to share ideas of what is needed to make the C2C most spectacular trail in not only Florida but in North America. 
Hosted by the Office of Greenways and Trails, the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation and the Florida Department of Transportation, the day started with updates from Samantha Browne, Chief of the Office Greenways and Trails, Jim Wood, Director of Office of Policy Planning for FDOT, former Orlando City Commissioner Daisy Lynum, and a representative from each MPO touching the 250 mile C2C trail.  Topics ranged from funding and trail schedules to priorities and opportunities. Shelly Lauten, Partner at TriSect, facilitated the afternoon session, where break out groups agreed to their top priorities and presented to the crowd. If you missed the presentations, visit the OGT website.

While all agreed that there have been many champions for this legacy project, there is none more devoted than Senator Andy Gardiner.  Because of his passion and commitment, he worked to pass legislation that enabled the state to spend FDOT funds on the project. In turn, the state allocated more than $18 million in funding to help complete the C2C for the 2014 Fiscal Year.
That is why the room’s energy hit a high note when Linda Chapin, former Orange County Mayor and a founder of Bike/Walk Central Florida, and Dale Allen, president of Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation, welcomed Senator Gardiner and presented him with 2014 Legislator of the Year. 
Speaking of high 
energy, the C2C video made its debut and received tremendous praise.  If you missed, it check it out at the FGTF website.  There we go again, making history. 
Making the C2C "Sun-Sational"

Safe.  Scenic.  Sun-Sational.  “Perfectly sums up the top three priorities for the state’s most ambitious recreational trail,” stated Dale Allen, FGTF president, at the Coast to Coast Summit on October 1. 
Summit attendees were charged with determining what it is needed to make the C2C the local economic catalyst, the country’s safest trail experience, and the world’s top tourist destination. 
So, what additional ingredients were discussed?  Let’s start with what we do have - beaches, wildlife refuges, and rocket launches.  Discussions focused on art, shade, parking, consistent signage, lighting, telecommunication capabilities…and the list goes on.
Next up: move these ideas into priorities and set actionable objectives all under the guidance of a regional leadership structure. Yes, establishing a structure to answer questions like signage, parking, and communications seems to be a top priority among all Summit attendees. The C2C Connector will provide the template for future Florida long-distance regional trails. 
To lend your voice to the Sun-Sational discussion, contact
Brian Ruscher, Regional Coordinator at the Office of Greenways and Trails.
Safety Marks the Spot
Imagine it is your first time riding a particular trail and you have an accident.  You know to call 911, but how do you tell the emergency responders exactly where you are?  If you were on the Pinellas Trail in Pinellas County, you would look for an emergency response system decal like the one pictured above. 
Placed every 200 feet on the trail surface, these bright yellow decals have unique location numbers that are tied to the county’s GIS system.  The combination of letters and numbers enables emergency response vehicles to pinpoint the exact location of an incident.  Installed in 2010, the decals also provide a number to report trail maintenance issues. 
The safety system works because of the Pinellas Trail Security Task Force: a collaborative partnership between Pinellas County and the City of St. Petersburg, local law enforcement, Pinellas County 911, and the Pinellas County MPO.  The group meets quarterly and oversees the emergency response decal program.  Sarah Ward, the Executive Director of the Pinellas County MPO, says that “decal usage has increased every year since we implemented the program.”
Safety is a top priority of the Coast to Coast Connector trail.  Look for updates on safety initiatives as they are implemented throughout the C2C in future newsletters.
C2C In The News
Lake is vital link in Coast to Coast Connector trail taking shape
Orlando Sentinel, September 20
What will be one of the longest continuous bicycle paths in the country is expected to bring roughly $120 million in economic impact annually to the state once it is completed while giving cyclists a safe alternative to biking on the road.  The Coast to Coast Connector project, a $42 million effort to connect pre-existing bike paths across the state, involves creating roughly 34 miles of trail through south Lake and Sumter.
Coast to Coast Connector Summit Planned
Daily Commercial, September 22
Trail users, planners, managers, private industry, economic developers and elected officials are invited to take part in a Coast to Coast Connector Summit on Oct. 1 in Winter Garden.

Florida DEP Awards $4M in Grants to 26 State Trail Projects, September 22
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Recreational Trails Program has granted more than $4 million for 26 outdoor recreation projects in the 2014 funding application cycle.  The Recreational Trails Program provides competitive grant funds to local communities to renovate, develop or maintain recreational trails and trailside facilities.  For a list of the 26 funded projects, click here.
Central Florida’s Coast to Coast Connector eyes final stretch
Orlando Sentinel, October 4
The state’s most ambitious recreation trail will take in Atlantic surf and rocket launches; manatees and springs; SunRail trains; Florida-style mountains; remote forests and charming towns; and the Gulf of Mexico near St. Petersburg.  About 75 percent of the 250-mile Coast to Coast Connector is open, but difficult gaps remain to be paved.  “Let’s go finish this trail,” said Dale Allen, president of the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation.  “We need to make it the most spectacular trail in North America.”
Dream Florida bike trail would be boon: Our Take
Orlando Sentinel, October 9
Trails provide recreation, environmental protection and a safe alternative to congested roads.  A less obvious benefit is that they act as an economic accelerant.  When completed, the C2C is expected to draw 1 million visitors annually with a daily expenditure of $20 a day per cyclist – enough incentive for state officials to keep their financial promises to the project.
Winter Garden hosts summit for Central Florida trail system
West Orange Times & Observer, October 9
Officials and advocates from throughout Central Florida gathered Oct. 1, at Winter Garden City Hall to celebrate progress in the Coast to Coast Connector, a regionally connected trail from St. Petersburg to Titusville.  “This will be the first regionally connected trail in the state of Florida,” said Dale Allen, president of the Florida Greenways and Trail Foundation, which initially proposed the connector. “It could be the longest regionally connected trail in the nation.”

Cross Florida Trail could be a boon to small towns
Orlando Sentinel, October 14
For once, everybody seems to be embracing something that will showcase, not shove aside, Florida’s natural wonders.  The ambitious C2C project has the support of politicians, policy wonks and champions of trails and greenways.  The plan is to connect at least 250 miles across the peninsula from St. Petersburg to Cape Canaveral.  This is the best idea to come to Florida since somebody mixed condensed milk with eggs and Key limes and called it pie.
Mount Dora’s Tremain Street Greenway nearing completion
Orlando Sentinel, October 15
Just off the beaten path of the downtown shops is a new bike and walking trail that ultimately will become part of the Coast to Coast Connector recreational course.  Extending from Lincoln Avenue through downtown, the Tremain Street Greenway is almost complete after several months of construction.  Bicyclists, joggers, walkers and skaters now have a paved path all their own to enjoy that features brick accents and drought-tolerant, low-maintenance foliage and flowers.  Planners say it may be a few years coming, but the trail is planned to enable access to the east along the railroad tracks to Seminole COunty, to the north and west to the Lake County Trail and to the south to the West Orange Trail, which connects to the Central Florida coast-to-coast trail, a corridor from Titusville to St. Petersburg that is about 75 percent complete.
Route differences aside, support for closing gaps on cross-state bike trail is strong
Tampa Bay Times, October 25
Anyone who doubts the changing perception of bike trails in Florida needs only to look at the Coast to Coast Connector. With the backing of the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott, the state Department of Transportation has set aside $18.8 million this year for the project, which would link existing trails to create a 275-mile cycling path from St. Petersburg to Titusville.
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