TALLAHASSEE – Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Deputy Secretary for Land and Recreation Bob Ballard and Volusia County Councilwoman Patricia Northey joined a host of community leaders last Friday to celebrate Florida being named the Best Trails State in the nation by American Trails. The event, which took place along the Spring to Spring Trail in DeLand, coincided with the St. Johns River to the Sea Loop Invitational Tour.
American Trails presents the National Trails Awards every two years to recognize the contributions of volunteers, professionals, agencies and other leaders who are working to create a national system of trails for all Americans. New this year, the Best Trails State award recognizes Florida for its vision, initiatives and management of its statewide trails system.
“Receiving the award from American Trails is an incredible honor and recognizes the importance of connecting communities with green spaces to our environment and our economy,” said DEP Deputy Secretary for Land and Recreation Bob Ballard. “Our state is known throughout the world for its pristine environment, and the state’s trails are a perfect showcase of those natural resources and recreational opportunities.”
DEP’s Office of Greenways & Trails (OGT) manages more than 80,000 acres of greenways and eight state trails as well as the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, Florida’s longest green corridor stretching 110 miles from the St. Johns River near Palatka to the Gulf of Mexico. Of the eight state trails, six are rail-trails, which are railroad corridors converted to recreational trails for hiking, biking and skating activities.
“We are excited to be honored by American Trails, we have a real commitment to the Spring to Spring Trail which is the 52 mile spine of our trail system,” said Volusia County Councilwoman, Patricia Northey. “This trail is probably one of the pieces that were instrumental in identifying Florida as having one of the best trails state.”
Beyond providing recreational and health opportunities, greenways and trails provide numerous economic benefits to a community. According to the National Association of Homebuilders, trails are the most desirable community amenity for prospective homebuyers when choosing a place to live. In addition, studies cited by the National Recreation and Parks Association have shown that residing within a closer proximity to greenways and conservation corridors increases property values. Many communities now look for trails and conservation greenways because of the growing desire for access to natural resources and a connected system of trails.
“Florida has embraced the value of greenways and trails with an enthusiasm and level of quality that is a model for the nation,” said Bob Searns, Chairman, Board of Directors for American Trails. “Exemplary programs like the Office of Greenways and Trails’ online trails database and regional trails forums have set a standard. Local and regional projects, trails on land and on water, are delivering a first class infrastructure for residents and an example for tourists to take back home.”
Florida’s greenways and trails attract more than three million visitors each year, and OGT is committed to providing access to the state’s resources to people of all abilities. Over the last three years, OGT has constructed two Boundless Playgrounds® made possible by a donation from the nature-based Felburn Foundation – one on the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway near Ocala and the second at the Wakulla Station Trailhead of the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail.
In addition to being named Best Trails State, Florida received American Trail’s awards in several other categories including:
Linda Crider, Executive Director of Bike Florida, awarded the Best Trail Advocate for the State of Florida.
Renee Blaney, President of the Ocala Mountain Bike Association and Cross Florida Greenway volunteer, named Florida’s Best Trail Worker. (Renee was also recognized with a Governor’s Points of Light Award in April 2008).
The first ever “Developer Awards” were presented by American Trails, one of which was received by Florida’s Lakewood Ranch.
Pinellas County brought home the “Trails and the Arts” award.
Through Florida Forever, the state’s premier land acquisition program, $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 http://www.floridagreenwaysandtrails.com.