LEGACY TRAIL CONNECTOR TO NORTH PORT
NORTH PORT CONNECTOR Q & A
by Sharon Donovan
Created by Friends of The Legacy Trail in consultation with
Sarasota County Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources
When will the North Port Connector be completed?
At this time we don’t have exact information on the completion date for the North Port Connector (estimates put it at mid-2022), but what we do know about this route is that there are exciting things to come!
Sarasota County Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources is currently in the planning stages to build a beautiful Legacy Trail–like experience in the Deer Prairie Creek Preserve portion of the connector route (see purple section in the map above). What is meant by “Legacy Trail–like?” It means that the trail will be paved, instead of a hard-packed surface, with a tree-lined nature corridor, much like the original Legacy Trail. This will greatly expand accessibility and uses for the North Port community and those visiting the area.
Deer Prairie Creek Preserve is one of those increasingly rare places in Florida where one can go to experience native habitats, including pine flatwoods, prairie hammocks, and seasonal wetlands. This new amenity in the preserve will provide an incredible recreational experience, especially for those who are seeking time outdoors during the pandemic.
While the costs for this new concept are expected to be more than originally estimated, the county is currently planning to cover it through the existing Legacy Trail Extension bond funds that were passed by voters in the 2018 election, at no further cost to taxpayers. Design plans are on schedule and almost complete. The county will begin soliciting construction bids and approving costs and contracts in 2021 as work in the preserve gets underway.
What was the thinking behind the routes being considered to connect the Legacy Trail in Nokomis to the City of North Port?
Prior to the $65 million bond referendum that passed in the 2018 election to extend The Legacy Trail, three potential routes were identified as possible connectors between The Legacy Trail in Nokomis and the City of North Port. This allowed citizens to examine the options being considered. The three potential routes included one through the Carlton Reserve and two through Deer Prairie Creek Preserve. These routes would be accessed by coming off The Legacy Trail in Nokomis and heading east along Florence Street, Edmondson Road, and Border Road (a mix of roads, bike lanes, sidewalks, and a multi-use recreational trail) until reaching either the Carlton Reserve or Deer Prairie Creek Preserve, which are both operated by the county. The county’s intention was to create a Legacy Trail–like experience for this connector wherever possible, meaning a paved off-road trail in a natural setting, accessible to as many types of users as possible.
Once the referendum passed, the county was able to put funds toward the process of examining more closely the feasibility of the three routes under consideration. In county meetings with Florida Power & Light, which operates the large power lines running along the Carlton Reserve route, it was determined that it would not be possible or cost-effective to pave the corridor through this area, so this option was removed from the table; however, the route through the Carlton Reserve will continue to be maintained as a hard-packed natural surface trail for park visitors. Sarasota County then awarded a design and engineering contract to Kimley-Horn and Associates. Kimley-Horn hired a special subcontractor to analyze the two routes under consideration in Deer Prairie Creek Preserve. More than a dozen different impact categories were explored, including primary and secondary wetland impacts, wildlife and habitat protection, the preservation of grand trees (trees that are large in diameter, height, and spread), flood storage and hydrologic flow, land management, and permitting. This analysis led them to determine that the route running along I-75 and south from there to connect with West Price Boulevard and/or possibly Warm Mineral Springs was the environmentally preferred route for the best off-road, paved Legacy Trail–like experience.
The analysis and recommendation was shared with the Sarasota County commissioners and the City of North Port commissioners at a joint commission meeting on October 2, 2019. Both commissions supported the recommendation. A county presentation was then made to the North Port community on October 15, 2019, to update them on the plans and solicit feedback.
There is a lot of wildlife in Deer Prairie Creek Preserve. How will the development and construction of this connector route, and the increased human presence along the trail, affect the wildlife? Also, there are a lot of beautiful trees in the preserve. Will any of these be impacted?
Wildlife protection and preservation is an important component to Sarasota County Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources management practices. Users along the existing Legacy Trail that runs from Venice to Sarasota report seeing wildlife along the trail, and wildlife use the trail as well. As with any park project, proper construction supervision will be utilized to minimize impacts, and once the trail is complete, it is expected that there will be limited to no impact to wildlife. As part of the planning process, the surveyor was required to identify and mark all trees with a diameter of four inches or more. This is done primarily to plan for tree protection. There are some areas of the preserve where the underbrush is ground down. This is part of existing fire mitigation maintenance activities. It is the county’s intent to have minimal impact to trees and other native vegetation throughout the project area. Similarly, the existing Legacy Trail runs through Oscar Scherer State Park in Nokomis, which has its own stringent state park standards to preserve and protect natural areas.
There are concerns that the development of this trail will increase access for hunters, poachers, illegal camping, and other negative activities. How will these issues be addressed for the safety and privacy of surrounding homeowners and the overall community?
Deer Prairie Creek Preserve management staff share these concerns as well. Inappropriate uses already exist in the preserve. In most cases, activating natural areas with appropriate uses reduces inappropriate uses, and that is expected to be the case here. The City of North Port, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission provide law enforcement jurisdiction in this area. With more direct access to law enforcement, and with more citizen eyes and ears to report issues, there will likely be a better response time. Maintenance, such as litter collection and trail beautification, will be the responsibility of Sarasota County Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources. With a project of this scale, the county projects how much operational funding is needed to maintain the new amenity. That funding has been factored into the project, and the maintenance trail team has been expanded to assist with these responsibilities. Along the eastern side of the preserve, where homes already exist, the City of North Port owns a 100-foot-wide parcel between the homes and the future trail. This parcel supports a drainage canal and vegetation that will help serve as a buffer for the homes. Users of the existing Legacy Trail are generally courteous to others, and there are few to no incidents that violate the privacy of surrounding homeowners. It is expected that the trail will provide a positive experience to the community as a whole.
How can I stay informed of the trail development?
Sarasota County has a designated web page for Legacy Trail updates and you can sign up for its e-newsletter, which periodically includes information about the North Port connector. Sarasota County is also expected to make periodic public presentations to the North Port community as the trail develops.
Friends of The Legacy Trail also has updates on the North Port section of its website, and you can sign up for the organization’s newsletter, which periodically includes information about the North Port connector. Friends of The Legacy Trail is always looking for volunteers from the community to help fulfill its mission to support, promote, enhance, and protect The Legacy Trail and its trail connectors. As always, we welcome your input and any further questions you may have.
In November 2018, a $65 million bond referendum passed to extend the Legacy Trail north to Payne Park and south for a connector to North Port. Of the $65 million, $2 million was earmarked for the North Port connector.
On October 2, Sarasota County and the City of North Port held a joint commission meeting to review the connector plans. Three routes had been under consideration, according to Sarasota County Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources Director Nicole Rissler, who made a presentation to the commissioners. One was through the Carlton Reserve and two were through Deer Prairie Creek Preserve. Following a comprehensive environmental impact assessment that took into consideration water flow, impacts to wildlife, and other factors, the county determined that a route in Deer Prairie Creek Preserve that parallels I-75 and then heads south to intersect with West Price Boulevard would be the favorable route for a paved Legacy Trail–like experience. Ultimately all three routes will be available to the public but two are natural-surface trails.
The connector route from the Legacy Trail itself will start on the trail in Nokomis and run east along Florence Street, Edmondson Road, Border Road, and South Moon Drive (a mix of roads, bike lanes, sidewalks, and multi-use trails) until it connects to Forbes Trail and on into Deer Prairie Creek Preserve.
Commissioners from the city and county reached a consensus on their support for this route with North Port Mayor Debbie McDowell describing the route’s natural beauty and saying it would be an asset to the community. County staff made a follow-up presentation to the residents of North Port on October 15, informing them of the new developments and taking into consideration their feedback. Preliminary plans for the route are expected by the end of 2019.
In addition to the bond funds, a generous $33,500 grant from the Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation (GCCF) has been earmarked to help develop the infrastructure required to connect the Legacy Trail connector to the City of North Port, demonstrating national and local support for this project. The infrastructure may include trailhead facilities or bridges needed to cross drainage canals.
“From TPL’s perspective, we support a statewide greenway and trail network, which is basically composed of numerous regional and local interconnected trails. With our work supporting the Legacy Trail and its extension during the [2018 referendum] campaign, we maintained the importance of realizing a county-length trail from the city of Sarasota to North Port. As the bulk of the referendum funding was to finance the northern extension, TPL also wanted to maintain attention to completing the southern extension. Following through with a private investment in the connector is an effective way to demonstrate our commitment,” said Doug Hattaway, senior project manager at the Trust for Public Land, a national parks and public lands advocacy group.
“We viewed this North Port connector grant in a similar vein to the grant we made for the advanced work on the northern trail link to downtown Sarasota. Often government budgets are set well before surveying and engineering needs are identified. This type of private-sector funding offers greater flexibility and the ability to respond quicker than government funding. Additionally, private-sector cooperative funding demonstrates support and confidence to policy makers and the public for the Legacy Trail extensions,” said Jon Thaxton, senior vice president for community investment at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, based in Sarasota County.
Friends of The Legacy Trail is grateful to TPL and GCCF for this generous grant and we thank Doug Hattaway and Jon Thaxton for their work on this effort.
Please continue to visit our website for updates on this connector, or sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media for breaking news.
Interactive Map of Connector Routes
The route from the Legacy Trail along Edmondson Road and Border Road is on paved roads with a combination of bike lanes, a one-mile multi-use trail section, road shoulders, and sidewalks. The South Power Line Trail through Carlton Reserve is currently available as a nine-mile packed-surface trail; it is primitive and there are few amenities. The route through Schewe Ranch is essentially impassable after getting off the paved South Moon Drive and Forbes Trail. There are some packed-surface trails, but they are primitive. Please visit the Sarasota County parks website for more information on the Carlton Reserve and Deer Prairie Creek Preserve, which includes more detailed maps and information.