SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. - A plan to expand the popular Legacy Trail from Palmer Ranch north into downtown Sarasota is in the works. Those working on the plan say they have the backing of local leaders and the public; now they just need financial backing.
Those who fought for the Legacy Trail say the use and response in the six years since it opened has been amazing. "Overwhelming; better than we thought," says Mike Gippert, President of Friends of the Legacy Trail.
He says they're seeing more than 150,000 users each year, attracting both locals and visitors. "From the evidence we have in the interviews we have done with users of the trail, the tourist’s impact have been phenomenal."
The trail is set to be highlighted nationally soon as well. On Thursday, crews from The Weather Channel will be in town to set up, and on Friday they will be shooting a segment about parks around the country, featuring the Legacy Trail.
Gwen and Toby Schmid say the Legacy Trail is the reason they're visiting from Minnesota. "I came here just for this trail," says Toby.
But imagine if they could ride even further.
"The original idea in the county’s trail was that it would go all the way to Fruitville Roard," says Mike Blumenthal of Friends of the Legacy Trail.
A push to expand the trail eight additional miles into downtown is picking up steam. The trail currently runs from the old Venice Train Depot nearly 11 miles to a spot near McIntosh Road south of Clark Road. The proposed extension would continue nearly 8 miles along the old rail line north to a spot near Payne Park.
Those with the Friends organization say they have the support. “We have the backing of the Sarasota County Commissioners, we have the backing of the City of Sarasota Commissioners, and we have the backing of the people," says Blumenthal.
With one big hold up. The price to buy the old rail tracks, pave, and ride without interruption including suspension bridges, isn't cheap.
"Including an additional six bridges that are going to be needed for the trail, I am looking at between $27-$34 million," says Blumenthal.
He believes local, state, and federal governments could chip in. The rest could be peddled more by public voters. “I feel very strongly that other monies can come from a bond issue. Money is cheap right now."
They're hoping support will continue to grow and that the expansion could be complete by 2017. The extended trail, in addition to the Venetian Waterway Park, would make 30 contiguous miles of paved trails throughout the county.
Right now the organization is trying to match Sarasota County by coming up with half the $150,000 needed for a feasibility study to find out exactly how much it's going to cost.