With the growth and popularity of the Legacy Trail, multiple improvements have been made possible with a $250,000 donation from Friends of Legacy Trail to Sarasota County.
The donation is expected to help fund a 4-mile, parallel lane, also known as a bifurcated trail, along the trail’s most urban stretch. Rather than sharing the current 12-foot lane, trail users would be separated by the pace of which they travel.
“We have seen exponential growth the last several years,” Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Director Nicole Rissler said. “We knew we had to think ahead when it came to carrying capacity, reducing user conflict and increasing safety.”
Legacy Trail, which has been open to cyclists, walkers and runners since 2008, has grown in popularity each year, according to Louis Kosiba, president of Friends of Legacy Trail. In 2021, the trail saw 479,000 unique visitors and could see many more as improvements are made.
Friends of Legacy Trail, a local nonprofit that has supported the trail, has added water fountains, signage and bike repair stations. Kosiba said the bifurcated trail could be a monumental improvement.
“We’re working with the county to put a plan together and the county is working on a grant,” Kosiba said. “Hopefully, the grant will be received late this summer or early in the fall. But whether we get the grant or not, it is my understanding that the county’s going forward with building the parallel trail.”
Although the bifurcated trail has yet to be built, designers knew it could be a possibility in the future and built the trail accordingly. The current trail was built slightly off-center to make an additional lane easier to construct.
A bifurcated trail could make traffic flow more smoothly, but it could also improve safety on and near the trail. Rural areas of the trail may not need additional lanes, signage or improvements, but the trail’s environment changes north of Clark Road.
“The trail starts in Venice and that’s fairly rural. It’s widely used but there’s currently not a lot of housing along it,” Kosiba said. “But then you get into a more urban area for about four miles. There’s lots of communities, children and walkers, and that’s where the work would be done.”
In addition to the bifurcated trail, the $250,000 donation will also directly lead to the building of a rest station at Phillippi Creek. Legacy Trail, a county-owned park, has also benefited from donations and contributions from Friends of Sarasota County Parks, Sarasota-Manatee Bicycle Club and private citizens.
The $250,000 donation, along with other funds, have also contributed to the extension of Legacy Trail to the city of North Port. Kosiba anticipated the trail will be extended to North Port by the fall.
“The referendum did much more than extend the trail north,” Kosiba said. “It’s also providing connectivity to North Port and that’s exciting. A lot of good things are happening and people just really enjoy using this trail.”
Meanwhile, a ribbon-cutting for a new stretch of Legacy Trail from Payne Park to Bahia Vista Street has been scheduled for March 3. When completed, the Legacy Trail will extend from northern Sarasota to North Port.
Kosiba, who moved to Sarasota in 2017, said he has enjoyed watching the Legacy Trail evolve. He said that he believes the trail has become a reason for people to move to the area after the COVID-19 pandemic created a new desire to experience nature.
“Whether they’re Canadians or from the Northeast they really enjoy the trail. It’s well-maintained and well-designed,” Kosiba said. “There’s people relocating into subdivisions to live close to Legacy Trail so they can go out and bicycle.”
The ribbon-cutting is not the only event scheduled for Legacy Trail on March 3. A new trailhead at Webber Street, also known as Sarasota Springs, is being constructed and is expected to open that day.
Additional safety improvements have also been scheduled for the coming years. One focus Friends of Legacy Trail is building additional bridges at busy intersections including Clark Road and Bee Ridge. Legacy Trail has already received bridges across U.S. 41 and Laurel Road.
“Getting cyclists off and over those busy streets will be a real plus not only for the cyclists, runners, joggers and skateboarders, but also for vehicular traffic,” Kosiba said. “Vehicles wouldn’t have to stop for trail-users and that’s super exciting.”
The new bridges are expected to be completed in 2024. More information about Friends of Legacy Trail can be found on its website at friendsoflegacytrail.org.
“You can walk a mile or bike for 18 miles. It’s just a very enjoyable interaction with nature,” Kosiba said. “It’s been a neat thing to see the trail grow and develop and evolve. The people use it and the people seem to love it.”
“We’re also very grateful for the taxpayers who have paid for this trail and extended it,” Kosiba continued. “Really, they’re the real heroes of this story.”